Monday, December 31, 2007

Auld Lang Syne

On the East Coast, you've just watched the ball drop in Times Square - but thanks to the magic of tape delay, we here on the Left Coast won't see it for another 3 hours.

Either way, Happy New Year.
Harry: What does this song mean? For my whole life I don't know what this song means. I mean, "Should old acquaintance be forgot". Does that mean we should forget old acquaintances, or does it mean if we happen to forget them we should remember them, which is not possible because we already forgot them?

Sally: Well, maybe it just means that we should remember that we forgot them or something. Anyway, it's about old friends. When Harry Met Sally
Be always at war with your vices, at peace with your neighbors, and let each new year find you a better man. Benjamin Franklin
Ring out the old, ring in the new, Ring, happy bells, across the snow: The year is going, let him go; Ring out the false, ring in the true. Alfred, Lord Tennyson
Because of this decision we don't evaluate people by what they have or how they look. We looked at the Messiah that way once and got it all wrong, as you know. We certainly don't look at him that way anymore. Now we look inside, and what we see is that anyone united with the Messiah gets a fresh start, is created new. The old life is gone; a new life burgeons! Look at it! 2 Corinthians 5:16-17 (The Message)

Thursday, December 27, 2007

Five & Dime 2007 is Coming...

...all of you kids who track your game playing need to drop me an e-mail at fluffdaddy at gmail dot com and let me know what you played 10+ and 5+ times in 2007... please use "five & dime" in the subject line. (Yes, you can wait until the 1st of January... sigh.)

The results will be reported here on the blog & discussed widely... or maybe just reported here on the blog & ignored by most of the known world. Either way, I'm doing it.

If you want to see the results from last year (and the years before that), check out Five & Dime: 2006. This is the 10th anniversary of my annual Five & Dime list.

Note to all of you who use the Geek's excellent game tracking system... please clean up your results before sending them - I don't count expansions that can't be played without the base game, only the base game.

Wednesday, December 26, 2007

Jerry Lee Collin OR "Playing the Pee-Mam-O"

Collin's "big" gift from his mom & dad this year was a piano - Collin loves music. His Uncle Dan took this video (sadly, without sound) of him putting on a show Christmas morning... enjoy the "pee-mam-o" concert.

Sunday, December 23, 2007

Merry Christmas

Shari & I stink at sending Christmas cards - or Christmas letters - or even those picture postcard things you can buy. Frankly, except for shipping games & Christmas packages, we deal with the USPS as little as possible. ("The USPS - when it absolutely has to be there... well, we don't know. And don't bother asking us to track it for you unless you pay us big bucks up front.")

Anyway, this is as close as we're going to get - may each of you have a Merry Christmas!
There were sheepherders camping in the neighborhood. They had set night watches over their sheep. Suddenly, God's angel stood among them and God's glory blazed around them. They were terrified. The angel said, "Don't be afraid. I'm here to announce a great and joyful event that is meant for everybody, worldwide: A Savior has just been born in David's town, a Savior who is Messiah and Master. This is what you're to look for: a baby wrapped in a blanket and lying in a manger." Luke 2:8-12 (The Message)

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Sunday, December 16, 2007

Survivor: China

After the loss of James (good riddance), Eric (darn), and Peih-Gee (inevitable), I'm not sure who'll win tonight. Here's my personal order of preference:
  1. Amanda... who has at least actually been playing the game with some sort thought involved.
  2. Denise... though I really don't think she has a chance to win and she hasn't done much to position herself any better than 4th. OTOH, she seems like a nice lady & someone who I'd enjoy in real life.
  3. Todd... shudder. He's the "mastermind" who ended up handing James not one but TWO immunity idols - which, btw, should have meant he would still be sitting at tribal council if Amanda hadn't engineered a nifty blind-siding move. He gets 3rd position in my book only because I have to leave 4th position for...
  4. Courtney... who has managed to snark & finagle her way into the endgame by being weak & not caring. Please do not give her money.

I think Amanda is likely to win if she can make it to the final three...

Of course, there was some hint that it might be a final two again in the promos, in which case I'd bet on Denise to be knocked off first, followed by Amanda & Todd trying to figure out how to get Courtney on their side - whichever one of them wins individual immunity in that situation will get the million smackeroos.

One more reality game/board game related link, since we're talking about Survivor: Shannon Applecline has written some pretty interesting posts on reality show game design at Skotos... start with this one on The Amazing Race and follow the links in the column to more goodness.

Week of A Million Dreams: Sunday (12/9/07)

As those of you who read the blog know, we've been anticipating our trip to the Disneyland Resort for a long time. Some of you have even begun to grow a little weary of it (hi, Tom!). If so, the next week or so will not be your cup of tea. I'll be writing up a pretty extensive trip report on our expedition to Southern California - both for your enjoyment here at aka pastor guy and for the folks over on forums. (In other words, I'll be cross-posting these trip reports at the forums on the Passporter website... but I'll be writing them primarily for the blogging audience.)

We left Fresno around 2 pm on Sunday afternoon - leaving our evening NewLife @ Night worship service in the capable hands of Aaron Kellar, our worship pastor. We also left behind Shari's black shoes & the Christmas presents we were going to exchange with my Aunt Nancy & Uncle Richard, but that's really not important right now.

Snow had fallen on the Grapevine the night before... but Sunday was clear & sunny, so the roads were fine. (For those uneducated in the vagaries of California highways, the Grapevine is a stretch of Interstate 5 that connects the Central Valley with the Los Angeles area while going over a 4000 ft pass. The name comes from a time when it was a winding two-lane road that was infamous both for the twists & turns and for reducing cars to broken-down hunks of metal.)

We stopped for dinner in Santa Clarita & ate at the Wood Ranch BBQ & Grill - an upscale BBQ place that had amazing ribs. (The rib sauce was very sugary & sticky but delicious - Shari described her first bite as "dessert.") We'll definitely stop there again.

The traffic going into L.A. wasn't too bad (it was a Sunday evening) and we made good time to our hotel, the Candy Cane Inn. We had a standard room, which would have been great if we hadn't borrowed a Buzz Lightyear tent & sleeping bag from Braeden's best buddy, Canaan. With the tent set up, the room was a bit tight. On the plus side, the room was clean & comfortable, the hotel towels were actually thick (as opposed to feeling like large baby wash cloths), and we were directly across from the breakfast area & only a few doors down from the shuttle pick-up point.

I'll get into this more in later posts, but the Candy Cane Inn is within walking distance of the parks - about 9-10 minutes. Still, we NEVER made this trip, instead relying on the very nice bus that left for the parks every 1/2 hour. (One of the drivers was particularly attentive of Collin - helping us get him in the bus, asking "where is my little friend?", and generally making him smile when he was sad to leave Disneyland.)

After getting the family settled, I drove down Harbor to Lincoln, took a right & found a Vons, just as the posters on had told me. (Thanks, guys!) I loaded up on milk & some other perishables for our mini-fridge & high-tailed it back to the hotel. The parking spot I ended up with become our spot for the week - two spaces away from the shuttle bus pickup point, making it a perfect "garage" for the stroller.

No surprise here: Braeden had a really tough time going to sleep, what with all the excitement about going to Disneyland the next day. (I had the same problem when I was young... oh, heck, who am I kidding?! I had trouble going to sleep, too!)

We're Ba-ack...

...more details to come. A delightful time was had by one & all - we talked to a turtle, fought a Sith Lord, danced with toys, had a couple of dreams "come true"... and, as you can see from the picture, helped Buzz Lightyear defeat Zurg.

For now, lots of unpacking ahead, along with getting ready for company (my mom & dad and sister & bro-in-law all come in next week for Christmas), as well as preaching a couple of sermons & teaching a Sunday School class.

Maybe I should go to bed.

Saturday, December 08, 2007

Christmas Tree Lane

We went with friends (our Under 30's group from NewLife) last Saturday night to walk Christmas Tree Lane here in Fresno. (It's a neighborhood that has been decorating the houses & trees for 85 years.) The picture you see here is from the Fresno Republican - it's the best picture I could find of what it looks like.

The other picture, of course, is of two bundled-up Jackson kids, taken that same night. Aren't they cute?!

Friday, December 07, 2007

The Happiest Links On Earth

For your reading enjoyment while we're spending the week with the Mouse, a number of Disneyland related links: From the site, two oddball stories that have been making the rounds: From the site And finally, two sites you ought to be reading on a regular basis:
  • Disney & animation fans need to check out esp. his older essay series on films & ride designs
  • while Disneyland fans should spend some major time at it's a wonderful site about all the things that aren't there anymore - pictures, descriptions, what replaced 'em... sigh. I miss Skull Rock (the picture here is from Yesterland).

Thursday, December 06, 2007

More Than A Handful of Change in the Bell Ringer's Bucket

People just seem to be more generous around the Christmas season... we can speculate why that is so:
  • they've been enculturated to give during this time of year
  • they're already spending a lot of money on friends & family so giving a little extra to a church or charity doesn't seem like a big deal
  • they're already spending a lot of money on friends & family so they feel guilty and give to assuage their guilt
  • they're more likely to receive a generous end-of-the-year bonus and therefore feel more comfortable with being generous themselves

I could go on.

But I want to suggest that there may be another reason for our willingness to give. The central stories of the season, both in the Jewish & Christian traditions, are about a generous God.

I'm probably not the best person to explain Hanukkah (heck, I even had to look up how to spell it correctly), but here goes nothing. Hanukkah is the "Festival of Lights", which celebrates God's gracious provision to the Jewish people of a lamp that burned in the newly rededicated temple (following the Maccaben revolt) - it was a symbol, along with the victory over Antiochus, of God caring for His people. (1 Macabees 4) (The dreidel wasn't a part of the early celebrations - no more likely than Mary & Joseph hanging stockings next to the fireplace in their home in Nazareth.)

Christmas marks a time in which God gave his only son in the form of a baby (John 3:16) ... who grew up to die on the cross as a ransom for our sins (Mark 10:45) . Essentially, he gave us Himself.

This generous God went one step further:

So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them. (Genesis 1:27)

If we are created in the image of God... and we assume that doesn't mean we have His nose & His white hair... then that means we bear His image in a deeper & more meaningful way. We are built to act like He does.

And that means we are... well, we can be, generous. During a season of the year in which generosity is honored not only in religious traditions but also in popular culture...

  • the conversion of Ebenezer Scrooge in "A Christmas Carol"
  • the compassionate hero, George Bailey, from "It's A Wonderful Life"
  • and, of course, the jolly old elf who gives children toys, Santa Claus

...should it be a surprise that the way we were made bubbles to the surface?

This Christmas season, I encourage you to find ways to express the generosity that echoes the heart of the One who created you. Give richly from your time, your talents & your treasure in order to touch hearts & lives.

Please note, however, what John Ortberg said at a conference I attended a few weeks back: we have a tendency in church circles to talk about generosity in general terms, leading to "superficial agreement and unchallenged apathy." Your mission, if you should choose to accept it, (why, yes, I did watch too many re-runs of Mission: Impossible as a kid), is to get specific:

  • how are you going to be generous this Christmas season?
  • when are you going to do it?
  • how much?

In the words of the old Nike shoe campaign, "Go for it."

Tuesday, December 04, 2007

T-Minus 5 Days & Counting...

The excitement is building here in the Jackson house as we get ready for our Disneyland Resort vacation. Yeah, and the kids are looking forward to it as well. (smirk)

I asked Collin (our 2 year old) a few days ago about whether he wanted to ride with Mom or with Dad... and he informed me that he wanted to ride with Chip'n'Dale. He's also very interested in the Tea Cups & Gadget's Go Coaster.

Braeden continues planning to ride all four mountains (Big Thunder, the Matterhorn, Splash Mtn & Space Mtn). He's also considering trying Indiana Jones... but the Tower of Terror is, in the words of Monty Python, "right out."

I need to say a huge thank you to our travel agent, Suzy Schreiner with Mouse Fan Travel... she was/is incredibly helpful. When we finally settled on the package we wanted, she found out we couldn't get it for all six nights - so she finagled a way to book us directly through the hotel for one night & through Disney for five nights. If you're planning a Disney vacation, drop her a line ( & ask for a quote. (She's not paying me to say this... I was just impressed by the service & professionalism.)

Things I'm most looking forward to:
  • watching Collin experience the parks for the first time
  • riding the submarines with their new Finding Nemo re-do
  • experiencing the Fantasmic! show on the Rivers of America (rather than in a big ampitheater like at WDW)
  • 7 days of vacation with my wife & boys
  • taking Braeden on adventures (Jedi Training show, Star Tours, Space Mtn, etc.)
  • seeing the castle decorated for Christmas
  • getting to spend one day with my family AND my Aunt Nancy & Uncle Richard
  • having enough time there to ride anything we want... and then ride it again!

Heroes: It Got Better

I know a lot of you gave up on the TV show Heroes about 1/2 way through the 2nd season. Tim Kring, the creator of the show, was the first to admit that they made some major mistakes early on. I didn't jump ship, mainly because I suffered through the early parts of the second & third season of Lost, which turned out to be worth the time & effort for the payoffs both came up with.

But we were talking about Heroes... starting with episode 7, things went from "eh" to "oh wow" and it just kept getting better. If you want to play catch-up, you can watch episodes 7-11 (the end of this story arc) on NBC's website.

I won't post any spoilers here - or spoil anything by speculating about stuff - but man oh man have they set up some great storylines once the Writer's Strike is settled.

56 Geeks

This picture is:
  • A. funny
  • B. sad
  • C. someone is following me around & drawing pictures of me
  • D. all of the above

Seriously, I could qualify for at least 8 of those portraits over the span of my life. Yikes.

Sorry about no picture here & having to follow the link... but I don't want to steal this guy's thunder.

Christmas List Ideas For the Chronically Uncreative

I haven't done a Christmas gift guide in a while (in fact, I think the last one I did was for the church @ hickory hollow in the "e-thing" - my silly name for our e-mail newsletter). But I've actually finished almost all of my Christmas shopping this year (woo hoo) and that frees up some time to share some gift ideas with those of you who are headed towards picking up one of those "special gifts" that department stores load up on their endcaps at this time of year. (You know what I'm talking about - tie & suspender sets, bath product baskets, and the like - generic gifts that say, loud & clear, "I know I had to get you something but my shopping exhaustion overtook my desire to be creative & personal so I just picked this thing up because the store was kind enough to wrap it so I could JUST BE DONE with the whole thing." And, he says sarcastically, isn't that what Christmas is all about?)

So, without further ado, here's some suggestions that you can pick up via some very nice web stores that mean you can both find something nifty & shop unshaven & unbathed.


Of course, we must start with the really important stuff, right?
  • Probably the best all-around gift game this year (and last year, since it was out last Christmas) is the party game Wits & Wagers. You can get points for getting the trivia questions right - but it's more important to bet on the right answer. The system for doing this is clean, easy to explain, and sucks people in like one of those Dyson vaccumn cleaners that the British guy keeps yammering about while I'm trying to watch my TV shows. I've seen this work well with families of non-gamers & with groups of people who are just as game-obsessed as I am - this is a resilient & enjoyable game system that would be welcome just about anywhere.
  • For the computer gamer with gaming tendencies on your gift list, you can splurge & pick them up a copy of Starcraft: The Board Game. It's a battle game set in the popular Starcraft universe, complete with tech development & research, but it plays quickly & cleanly (once you get past your first trip through the rules.) Unlike many multiplayer combat games, this one does not encourage "turtling" (standing still & building up a massive force, waiting for other players to go at it). It also includes a bunch of cool plastic minis. (While I haven't experienced this myself, according to other gamers it scales well from 2-6 players, which is always nice.)
  • Finally, my personal favorite from this last year is the gorgeous archaeology game, Thebes. This is somewhere between a family game & a gamer game, but the mechanics of the game are so perfectly married with the theme that it's very easy to teach & learn. (Braeden can play it - and he's 6 years old!) There's lots of luck involved - which is no surprise, since you're digging up treasures at the turn of the century - but there are a number of interesting tactical decisions, particularly when playing with 4 players. Finally, the game is stunning: the artwork & production are top-notch.

You can find all of these games at Game Surplus or Boards & Bits.


One for the kiddies (that won't make the adults crazy), one for the adults (that my 2 year old likes)...
  • The one for the kids is Andrew Peterson's Slugs, Bugs & Lullabies... and let's get one thing out of the way right now. This is NOT a "go to sleep" album - the lullabies (haunting & beautiful) don't kick in until cut 14 on this CD. Up to that point, this album is packed with songs about boredom, bears who don't wear underwear, beans & farting (without using the word "fart"), and a play-by-play description of a rousing game of "get the guy with the ball." Braeden's favorite song is "Tractor, Tractor", which takes those insipid repeating songs you hear on most children's records (do NOT get me started on how much I hate Discovery Toys Sounds Like Fun which I have renamed Sounds Like A Frontal Lobotomy) and turns it into a playful argument between the two performers (Andrew & his buddy, Randall Goodgame.) I can't recommend this album highly enough.
  • My other favorite album that I discovered this year (and when are you going to give it back, Isaac?!) is the self-titled debut of Decemberadio. A bunch of young guys who obviously had older siblings and/or parents who listened to King's X, the Eagles & a passel of other quality bands have joined forces to make some of the best "classic rock" with spiritual sensibilities... that isn't classic rock. (It can't be - these guys are young pups. Sigh... I'm getting old.)

Well, you've got to find something to do while your kids are watching "Rudolph the Red-Nosed Claymation Puppet" for the umpteenth time, right?!
  • If you can pry them away from the TV, the best kid's book we read this year (thanks to our homeschool curriculum, Sonlight), was written 60 years ago. My Father's Dragon is a wonderful & whimsical story of rescue, wit & derring-do that had all of us (kids & adults alike) longing to read the next chapter to find out what happened. It reminded me in feel (not content) of one of my long-time favorite books, The Twenty-One Balloons, which I'd also recommend to you without reservations.
  • And, for the adults in the crowd, if you have any enjoyment of "science fantasy" (that weird blend of the two genres), you need to read Ted Dekker's The Circle. There's actually two ways to enjoy this epic trilogy: the three books were recently published in a one-book compilation... and for those who like their comic books, it's also been released in graphic novel format.

Well, good luck on that shopping... remember, I like board games & Legos, just like when I was a kid. (Grin.)

Monday, December 03, 2007

Giving Away Your Own (Monopoly) Money

There's a really nice thread/discussion over on BGG about Monopoly strategy... and I decided to chime in with some thoughts I had on immunities/letting another player land on your property without paying. After I posted it, I realized that my diverse audience here at the blog might find the information helpful, and so, in the interest of making for better family Monopoly games during this holiday season, here it is.

Strategically, there's a major problem with giving a player immunity... You are not giving someone a "free pass", you are giving them money. Your money. And in a game where - if played as designed - money is in short supply.

Think about it - if you avoid the all-too-common "house rule" trap of putting $ on Free Parking, there's not a lot of money coming into the game system from the outside. Each player gets $200 per circuit of the board + whatever positve Chance/Community Chest cards they received, but those are balanced out by the negative cards & spaces (Income Tax, Luxury Tax). Money leaves the game at a fair clip as well: buying property, improving property & paying off mortgages all take money away from players and put it back into the bank.

Since very little money is coming into the system (it's not a zero-sum game, but it's in the neighborhood), you need to make sure that as much of that money is coming to you as is possible.

In game terms, "immunities" serve to make the game longer. Again, the game is designed to constrict - the amount of money available grows smaller & the winning player is the one who can pry his opponent's fingers off of what is left. By (essentially) giving players extra money (the actual consequence of immunities), you increase the time it takes to bankrupt someone.

Finally, the question of an official ruling on immunities. While there is nothing in the published rules about this, the rules used in tournament play forbid it. The following quote is from my own webpage on Monopoly at Game Central Station and quotes Phillip Orbanes' The Monopoly Companion.
- You may only trade Title Deeds, cash, and GET OUT OF JAIL FREE cards. You can't trade *anything* else, [italics in original text] like "immunity" from paying rent if a traded property is landed on, or a promise not to build houses in the future. (Chp 2, The Rules Explained)

- All trades are based on assets owned at the time of the trade. No options or immunity from paying future rents may be granted, nor may partnerships be formed.
(Chp 6, Tournament Monopoly & How You Can Play It)
We've chosen to play this way and it speeds up the game both for the reasons outlined above AND because it makes trading simpler - since you have to trade real property, everyone can make clear decisions and valuations about what & what not to trade.

Hope that helps - and while we're at it, let's remind everyone of the four most-commonly missed rules in Monopoly (the quotes are from the official rules):

Free Parking:
A player landing on this place does not receive any money, property or reward of any kind.This is just a "free" resting-place.
Property Auctions:
If he does not wish to buy the property it is sold at auction by the Banker to the highest bidder. The buyer pays to the Bank the amount of the bid in cash and receives the Title Deed card for that property. Any player, including the one who declined the option of buying it at the printed price, may bid. Bidding may start at any price.
Building Shortages:
When the Bank has no houses to sell, players wishing to build must wait for some player to return or sell his/her houses to the Bank before building. If there are a limited number of houses and hotels available and two or more players wish to buy more than the Bank has, the houses or hotels must be sold at auction to the highest bidder.
Money can be loaned to a player only by the Bank and then only by mortgaging property. No player may borrow from or lend money to another player.

Anna's Day

That's right - this Sunday (December 9th) is Anna's Day. Well, not our good friend, Anna Campbell, but every Anna. At least in Sweden... where it's a day for recognizing everyone named Anna. (Where's Mark Day, huh?! How did I get cheated?)

It's also the day that they begin preparing the lutefisk in order for it to be ready for consumption on Christmas Eve.

Maybe you've missed out on the joys of lutefisk. In case that's true, let me describe it to you: it's whitefish that's been soaked in cold water, then in cold water & lye, then back in cold water again. (This process takes a couple of weeks... it's not like you're going to run home & whip up some of this for dinner tonight.) The fish is then cooked - thank goodness. The lye breaks down the fish in such a way that it has a jelly-ish consistency... and if your brain and/or stomach can't handle that description, let me suggest you avoid eating poi if you ever get to go to Hawaii. It also (esp. if prepared from cod) has a VERY strong fish-y odor.

Anyway, lutefisk is a traditional winter dish in Scandinavian cultures - though we here in America actually consume more of the stuff than they do in Norway & Sweden. It's become a common humor reference - everyone from Jeffery Steingarten ("The Man Who Ate Everything") to the animated TV show King of the Hill (where Bobby develops a manic love for the dish) to the film Drop Dead Gorgeous. Of course, my favorite humorist of Scandinavian descent, Garrison Keillor, has written about it as well:
Every Advent we entered the purgatory of lutefisk, a repulsive gelatinous fishlike dish that tasted of soap and gave off an odor that would gag a goat. We did this in honor of Norwegian ancestors, much as if survivors of a famine might celebrate their deliverance by feasting on elm bark. I always felt the cold creeps as Advent approached, knowing that this dread delicacy would be put before me and I’d be told, "Just have a little." Eating a little was like vomiting a little, just as bad as a lot.
What a lovely Christmas tradition, eh?

Of course, this got me thinking. What Christmas traditions do we do that continue year after year despite the fact that nobody really sees any meaning in them? Are we wasting time & energy doing stuff "just because" when we could free up ourselves to enjoy our family and, more importantly, Jesus himself during the celebration of His birth?

And that leads to another question: what are the lutefisk things we do in church? What do we force people to "just have a little" of that has nothing to do with following Christ & His truth?

Something to think about while you're looking for a parking spot at the mall, I guess.

The source for most of the information in this article is the always interesting Wikipedia.

Three Requests

On Friday, yet another blockbuster fantasy/quest movie will hit the big screen... and the early reviews for "The Golden Compass" are pretty positive. That is, except in evangelical circles, where I've received e-mails wondering about the content & nefarious intentions of the film & the book series ("His Dark Materials") it is based upon.

I wish I had more personal experience with these books - but I actually haven't read them. In general, my friends who like that kind of stuff say that the first book is really good and the 2nd & 3rd books become much darker and have a very specific agenda about God & church, esp. the Catholic Church.

I can only point you towards some very well-written articles written by people I trust:

Armed with that information (and much other reading), I have three requests for you:
  1. Please don't boycott this film. Listen carefully - I didn't say "Go see the film"; I said, "Don't boycott the film." There is a difference. You can choose not to see the film without making a big deal out of it. Participating in boycotts is similar to "feeding a troll" online - the only one who wins is the questionable thing that you draw attention to with your picket lines & protests.
  2. Please don't let your kids go see the film and/or read the books without you. Some of the most important conversations can take place when we see or read something difficult or questionable and ask our kids questions like "What did you think of that?", "Does that story remind you of any Bible story?" "Is there stuff in this movie that tries to contradict the Bible?" and so on. One of the greatest mistakes we make both as parents & as individuals is to intake culture (films, television, books, music, internet, etc.) with our minds turned off. The second greatest mistake is to teach our children to treat media the same way we do.
  3. Please make sure that the focus of your Advent season is Jesus Christ rather than a movie.

Sunday, November 25, 2007

The Hypnotic Power of a Bug Zapper & The Happiest Place On Earth

Mosquito #1: Larry, no! Don't look at the light!
Mosquito #2: [entranced] I-can't-help-it. It's-so-beautiful.
A Bug's Life
I know I've got Disneyland on the brain right now (we're leaving for Anaheim in 14 days!), but this post has been fermenting in the dark corners of my brain for nearly six months now. Blame
Erwin McManus... it was an off-handed comment he made during the Ethos part of The Origins Experience.

He suggested that different cultures have different icons that give us clues to the underlying values that permeate those cultures:
  • the English have Big Ben - a giant clock. Is it any wonder that order & consistency are highly valued in that society?
  • for Germany, Erwin suggested the iconic value of the automobile (Volkswagon, Mercedes Benz, Porsche)... and that leads easily into a culture that finds precision & attention to detail.
  • Brazil's icon is not an object but a celebration: Mardi Gras (Carnivale) - which fits a country where living life to the fullest & enjoying the party are deeply valued.

Then Erwin asked the question he'd been leading up to: "What are the metaphors of the culture that you are in?" And since the majority of us in the audience were from the U.S., he answered the question for us: "Mickey Mouse. Disneyland."

Of course, I was prepared at that point to hear your standard anti-Disney diatribe: [snob]"Just like Disney, Americans are shallow, interested in being lulled to political & moral sleep by a Pied Piper with promises of a fantasy world & happy endings."[/snob] But that wasn't where Erwin headed...

"Disneyland stands for the promise of imagination - that we can create something bigger & better & more amazing. It suggests that every one of us can live a heroic life." (This quote, btw, is paraphrased - this is what I can construct from my personal notes & my failing memory.)

With that nugget burrowing into my head, I began reading Erwin's most recent book, Soul Cravings (you can read a chapter that particularly moved me, 'cuz I blogged about it earlier this year: Pathos [Entry 24]) His premise is that each person has three needs:

  • meaning - we want to know what we can know (truth) and what we can control (security)
  • intimacy - we want to experience community (acceptance) and love
  • destiny - we want to make a difference (success, signifigance)

Mix into a pile of books I received for my birthday on Disney & Disneyland...

...along with my already well-documented obsession with the Disney parks and you've got yourself the makings of a world-class philosophical/theological rant.

I'll try to spare you most of my musings, which are probably only interesting to me & a couple of other Disneyphiles... still, I've started down this road, so join me as I address the key question here.

Why is that so many of us are drawn to Disneyland like a moth to a flame? (Or, to borrow from A Bug's Life, a mosquito to a bug zapper?)

I've come to believe that it's because Disneyland, knowingly or unknowingly, taps into all three of these core desires (or cravings):
  • meaning - In the world of Disney (and by extension, Disneyland), there are heroes & villains. Rather than a world that seems to be sometimes painted in shades of grey, the park offers a place where visitors can see good triumph over evil.
  • intimacy - From encounters with characters to the special attention to guest relations that each Cast Member is trained in, the folks at Disneyland want you not only to enjoy the attractions but also to connect on a personal level. It's telling that none of their publicity materials (that I know of) advertise this as a great vacation for individuals - instead, they emphasize how experiencing the park together brings families & friends closer with the bond of shared memories.
  • destiny - The park is designed to involve you in adventure after adventure - whether it's flying through outer space (Star Tours, Space Mountain) or dealing with pirates (Pirates of the Carribean) or facing ghosts (the Haunted Mansion) or exploring the wilds of Africa & Asia (the Jungle Cruise). Challenging your fears, diving headlong into adventure... these kind of experiences touch base with your need to do something meaningful with our lives - to escape the monotony of our everyday slog.
I'm not suggesting that Walt Disney (or anyone else who's making the "big decisions" for the park) was/is a follower of Christ... or even that they sought to satisfy these cravings in a purposeful way. I'm simply suggesting that the appeal of Disneyland is not as simple as "it's clean & has wormed it's way into a definition of the American experience." (One clue to that being false: there are now 3 "Disneyland" parks outside of the U.S. - in Tokyo, Hong Kong & Paris.)


For those of you in the reading audience who need to hear me quote some Scripture right now so you won't brand Erwin (or me, by extension) as a Mickey-ears wearing heretic, how about John 14:6?:

  • destiny ("I am the way")
  • meaning ("the truth")
  • intimacy ("and the life")

Or how about 1 Corinthians 13:13, Colossians 1:5, 1 Thessalonians 1:3 & 5:8?

  • meaning ("faith" - what is really true?)
  • destiny ("hope" - where are really we headed?)
  • intimacy ("love" - will we really know & be known?)


A final thought about movies & amusement parks & well, church (maybe?):

"Don't write stuff & produce stuff about answers - don't do that," Winter said. "Write stuff & produce stuff that will stir up cravings inside of us, because that's the DNA that God's put inside of us. You stir that stuff up, and that's where [people] want to go to church. That's when they want to talk about the good news." Ralph Winter, producer of the X-Men series, quoted in The Hollywood Project by Alex Field

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

I'm Still A Gamer, Really...

...I just haven't got to play many games lately. Between a homeschool field trip to Monterey Bay Aquarium and the Exponential 07 conference at Saddleback Community Church (I need to blog a bit about that), I missed two Monday game nights with the Fresno Gamers & was away from my primary gaming partner, my six year old son.

Like many of you, I've watched the Essen reports, trying to figure out which games will really hit my sweet spot. I'm on the fence about ordering Agricola - I'm a big Uwe Rosenberg (the designer) fan and the advance word on the game sounds wonderful - but the price tag is pretty hefty. I'm also interested in Giganten der Lufte (which will be called Airships in the international version, I think), but I figure I can wait on that. I can't decide whether I will love or hate Race for the Galaxy, which means someone else in my group needs to buy a copy so I can try it.

I have no questions WHATSOEVER about whether I'll own a copy of the Memoir '44 Air Pack... they just released a pdf of the rules today & I couldn't be happier about what this expansion will do to the game system. Now the question is whether I'll get it as a gift for Christmas or if I'll buy it for myself on December 26th.

I ordered the limited edition reprint of Mordred six months ago... and just received it yesterday. It looks wonderful, but I won't get to play until Friday (one of my gamer buddies - hi, Steve!) is hosting a Black Friday Game Day. (And, if I can't do that, it'll have to wait for Monday night. Sigh.) Best line from the rules: "This game should take about 1/2 hour to play... if you find yourself playing for two hours, you've done something horribly wrong."

We did get to play Ark on Monday night with the expansion cards - they lengthen the game a bit, but they also offer more ways to manipulate the loading process, which is fun. (I think they also help balance the game out a bit - all the players have a better chance of finding & playing specials when there are more specials in the deck.) For more on Monday gaming, you can check out this geeklist... or this one about our "Spooky Games Night" right before Halloween.

Braeden & I haven't got back to our Soulborg vs. Elves & Undead Heroscape battle, but that's the plan for this weekend. So far, it's about equal carnage on both sides... and the Undead are proving to be less effective than I'd like. OTOH, the Elves are pretty much keeping a posse of robots at bay, so I'm liking my chances right now.

I've already sent my BGG Secret Santa gift... since it is going overseas, I couldn't be quite as creative - but I did manage to stick in a couple of games that are tough to find outside of the U.S. Now... I wonder what my Secret Santa is doing for me?!

A bit of exciting news from designer Tom Lehmann (which came to my attention thanks to Brian Bankler's Tao of Gaming): there will be an expansion to To Court The King. How cool is that?!

And, yes, Virginia, there will be yet another edition of the Five & Dime reports in 2008... more on that as we reach the final days of 2007.

Pieces of Ate

Had a neat experience last night - I got to take my family to a special pastor's sneak preview of the new VeggieTales film, The Pirates Who Don't Do Anything.

Any long-time Veggie fan (and if you aren't one of those, what rock have you been hiding under?!) knows that the Pirates have a lovely theme song, a pivotal role in the Jonah movie (thanks to winning the Mr. Twisty contest), and even managed to host the Ultimate Silly Song Countdown.

Well, evidently everything we knew about the Pirates is wrong - they're actually cabin boys at the Pieces of Ate Dinner Theater who manage to have a wonderful time-traveling adventure filled with pop references for the parents (Days of Our Lives, the B-52's, etc.) and crazy set pieces involving cheese curls (of course!), pirates & some other stuff I just don't want to give away as spoilers.

We all really enjoyed the movie... Collin was so jazzed about it that he immediately asked if there was another movie after this one. It's so nice to take my kids to a film and not worry that they're going to get a bunch of adult/off-color jokes thrown at them... and, on top of that, to really resonate with the "moral" of the story. (No, the film is not explicitly Christian - I'd liken it to Narnia in the way it tells a story with Christian undertones... but then again, I don't remember any of the Narnia stories featuring remote control "labor-saving devices" or cucumbers who make rollercoaster jokes.)

The release date is January 11th... mark in on your calendars & go see it!

Friday, November 16, 2007

My Niece, The Equestrian

I have two nieces & two nephews... the one you're about to see is the eldest. She was about a year old when Shari & I started dating - and was the flower girl at our wedding.

Rebecca is many things: funny, wise, deeply in love with Jesus, and persistent at trying to take her uncle down at Flower Power (unsuccessfully, for the most part). What she is not, as you'll see, is an accomplished rider of horses. (For those who don't know Rebecca on sight, she's the second rider.)

I love you, Bebe...

T-Minus 23 Days & Counting...

Our expedition to "see the Mouse" is getter closer & closer... the kids are incredibly excited, but I don't think they get close to my personal level of euphoria. (I am a complete nut when it comes to Disneyland.)

After a lot of research & reading, we've decided on a 6 night stay at the Candy Cane Inn. We'll drive down (about a 4 hour trip for us) on Sunday afternoon then hit the parks first thing on Monday morning. We'll have five days to explore Disneyland & California Adventure - which means we can start early in the morning (the boys got up at 6:45 am this morning!) then come back to the hotel to rest in the afternoon. Of course, once rested we can return to the parks to see them lit up each evening!

We're really looking forward to riding the Finding Nemo Submarines... even Collin, who is convinced he's going to see a shark. (He's correct, of course.) Braeden has decided he's tough enough to ride all four Disney mountains (the Matterhorn, Space Mountain, Big Thunder Mountain & Splash Mountain) - and I've promised him something special (probably a pin or a T-shirt) if he does it.

I can't say enough nice things about two guidebooks (Passporter & the Unofficial Guide) in helping us get ready for the trip. I also need to mention the wonderful folks on the Passporter discussion boards who have been incredibly helpful with all my questions & worries. There's lots of nifty "hidden" stuff involved in a Disney trip - and the above resources have helped us to ferret them out. (I'll let you know more when I write my trip report in late December.)

BTW, the beautiful picture of the castle all decked out for Christmas is from MousePlanet, another very cool site with Disney parks info.

Saturday, November 10, 2007

The Unofficial Guide To Catan, Part 2

As promised, here's the second installment of my "Unofficial Guide to Catan." (You can read the first installment here.) This time around, we'll deal with all the spin-off games.

Settlers of Catan: The Card Game

I bought this game & El Grande 10 years ago at Gamescape in San Francisco... both of them chock full of German text. Now, in the enlightened days when so many European games are re-published in English, it may seem hard to believe, but we played a lot of this game (10-20 plays) using the German cards & cheat sheets to look up the translations.

The Settlers Card Game takes the same basic "build settlements to harvest resources" mechanic from the original game and builds on it, adding knights, buildings w/special powers, fleets, action cards & event cards. Take it from me - there's a lot of game in here & a number of ways to pursue victory. This game is for two players, however, so there is very little trading. (Well, trading is allowed in the rules, but it is very seldom used.)

I'm a huge fan of the game, but I need to sound three warnings for those who are interested:
  1. It's a pretty vicious game... between the Arsonist, the Spy & the Black Knight, you can do some serious damage to your opponent.
  2. It's a memory game... to play well, you need to keep track of which of five decks certain key cards are hiding. If you don't like memory games, this is NOT for you.
  3. It runs just a tad long until you've played it a number of times... your first game will run 2 - 2.5 hours with subsequent plays finally reaching the 90 min. mark.
There are a number of expansions for the game as well... which Mayfair thoughtfully boxed together in the appropriately titled Settlers of Catan Card Game Expansions. This includes the first six expansions published in German - each deck offers a variety of new cards to spice up the game. The seventh expansion (Artists & Benefactors) has not been published in English & there is no timetable (yet!) for that to happen.

I really like having the expansions but I haven't used them much. All of them add extra ways to mess with your opponent, so that may help you decide if you need them or not.

To Infinity & Beyond...

Sci-fi games are unusual in Germany - which makes the fact that the Settlers franchise has two sci-fi games even more unusual.

The first to appear was The Starfarers of Catan - again, using the resource system from Catan but adding a different way of colonizing planets, action cards much like the card game, and an event deck. Even more notable was the large (8-9 inches tall) plastic "mother ships", which look like refugees from an old Flash Gordon serial.

Initial reactions to this game were mixed - while lots of folks liked the bits & the thematic gameplay, it tended to run long (2.5-3 hours wasn't uncommon) and sometimes fell into very predictable patterns.

IMHO, most of the problems with the base game were fixed by the appearance of the 5-6 player expansion... as long as you didn't play it with 5-6 players. Another alien race & 3 extra planetary systems made the game work much better (and faster!) with 3-4 players. (It actually works nicely w/2 players as well.)

And, just in case Herr Teuber & Kosmos hadn't taken enough of your hard-earned cash, they released a special set of painted resin alien figures for the game - which serve no purpose but to replace some cardboard tokens from the original game. Still, they look awfully cool & I'm glad the set I traded for included them!

The other sci-fi game combined the art & backstory as Starfarers of Catan with some of the mechanics from the Settlers Card Game to create a hybrid that may well be stronger than either of the games that birthed. Starship Catan is an economic game where you fly your trading ship around the galaxy, completing missions for the Galactic Alliance as you try to maximize your profits by establishing trade outposts & colonies. There's space pirates to fend off & aliens to trade with - all activated by a unique deck exploration mechanic that requires you to once again kick the memory part of your brain into gear.

This is a wonderful 2-player game... and it doesn't hurt that Klaus Teuber has released 3 print-and-play expansions for the game: The Space Amoeba, The Asteroid & The Diplomatic Station.

Adventures By Catan

Just a few years back, Herr Teuber took the Catan franchise in a new direction by creating a series of games called Catan Adventures (based, I think, on the Catan novel, which hasn't been released in English.) So far there are two games in the series.

The first, Candamir: The First Settlers, has each player in the role of an adventurer, helping to carve the first settlement out of the wilderness of Catan. It's an odd combination of exploration & resource management game, with some definite character-building elements. It's probably the least successful of Teuber's Settlers spin-offs, but I haven't traded my copy away yet.

The second, Elasund: The First City, is a city-building game with incredible potential for player interaction (and the requisite cruelty!) It's not a game that comes out a lot, but I really enjoy playing it with the right crowd.

Greasy Kid Stuff

In an attempt to hook kids into the franchise as early as possible (what? no Catan toddler toys - yet?!), there are two children's game using Catan as a theme.

The first one published is The Kids of Catan. It is a very pretty game of city-building with a simplified set of resources & wonderfully chunky wooden bits. It also has a price tag the size of a small midwestern town, so I can't recommend it unless you have money to burn. It work very well with kids age 4-7.

The second was just released in Germany earlier this year - Catan Junior. I have not even seen a copy yet... but it's on my "wish list" of stuff to play/acquire.

Roll Dem Bones

The other recent release (and the final game in the guide) is Die Siedler von Catan: Das Wurfelspiel... translated, that's the Settler of Catan Dice Game. It plays a bit like Yahtzee (roll the dice three times, attempting to make a score) but there's some interesting choices on the map-like scorepad. (Herr Teuber has also posted a variant scorepad that plays more like "straight" Settlers, but I haven't tried that yet.) I like this one - although there are better dice games, I like the Catan feel and the simple play. However, I don't recommend playing with more than 3 people per set of dice. (BTW, this has been very hard to find in the U.S. - the easiest way to order it is from German Amazon. [])

More To Come

Back in the day (OK, just a few years ago), I ran a website called Game Central Station that had an extensive Catan section. Due to the evil Yahoo empire blowing up my site (hadn't updated it) and then some serious problems with FTPing things to the new site, I've never been able to restore that portion of the site. (This is NOT the fault of GameSurplus, who still kindly sponsor the site - and are a GREAT place to order games.)

So, I'm seriously thinking about putting some of that content up here. Look for it over the next few weeks.

Thursday, November 08, 2007

Will The Vampire People Please Leave the Lobby?

This really isn't a book review... let's call it a "book reaction". Of course, that doesn't keep me from saying reviewer-ish kinds of things about Will The Vampire People Please Leave The Lobby?: True Adventures in Cult Fandom, but that won't be my focus here.

I personally have a weird relationship with Buffy: The Vampire Slayer - I didn't watch the show while it was being broadcast. I only found it in late 2002, thanks to my buddy (Chris Herndon) loaning me the DVD sets during my 4 month stint as a 3rd shift customer service rep at JC Penney's Nashville call center. (There's another portion of my life that's blog-worthy... if not exactly G-rated. Remind me and someday I'll tell the tales of Panty Man, Lingerie Girl, and the inability of middle management to make up their ever-lovin' minds about darn near anything.)

So, on the nights that I wasn't working 10 pm - 5 am, I stayed up anyway (to keep my internal clock regulated) and watched movies & old TV shows. Thanks to Chris and the Internet, I watched the shows in order - actually watching Buffy/Angel in tandem on the seasons where they overlapped.

I liked the shows - a lot. Yes, I was bothered by the copious amounts of sex & blood, but (as in many other "questionable" shows that I've enjoyed & been moved by) none of their behaviors as characters were consequence-free. Episodic TV is has a huge advantage over film in this - you can take the time to show the fallout of bad and/or sinful decisions in 24 episodes/year.

One last bit of Buffy commentary before I return to the actual topic of the post... sigh. The first three seasons are really, really great (esp. 2 & 3) - and the first part of season 4 has some wonderful moments (including the episode, "Hush", which could be the best episode of the entire series), but when it turns into Frankenstein Meets The X-Files, it really falls apart. There are nice moments & characters for the rest of the run (I actually liked Dawn, if not the story that brought her into play), but seasons 5-7 are, for the most part, watching something wonderful grow less & less enchanting. Angel's first 3 seasons are also very good (again, esp. 2 & 3), but season 4 was a mess. Season 5 came back & reimagined the series in some very funny & interesting ways, but the impending cancellation & the loss of Buffy (the series) made for some pretty dark viewing. Consider yourself warned.

OK, two Joss Whedon notes (wonder if I'm EVER going to get back to the book?!):
  1. Yes, I'm aware of Buffy Season 8 (a comic book series authored by the creator of Buffy) - I just haven't read any of it yet.
  2. Yes, I've seen Firefly - both the series & the film - and it's one of those sad stories of something that was probably too good for television. (Join the club: I'm a fan of Boomtown, Sports Night & Kidnapped as well.)

Alrighty then, back to the point of this now way-too-long post. (Yes, campers, ALL of what proceeded that was geeky introduction. Sheesh.) Allyson Beatrice has written a snarky but enjoyable book about, well, it starts off about Buffy/Angel fandom & actually ends up being an autobiographical trip through Allyson's life.

What really struck a chord with me was not the details of the Buffy online fandom community (I've never even been particularly interested in discussing Buffy online) but the resonance that her experience in that online community had with my experiences in the world of board gaming.

She talks about how she "watched as people got their doctorates, passed the bar exam, got divorced, grappled with the death of a parent, left their homes & countries to start a new life." And then she says something pretty profound:

"Watched" is the wrong verb. I watched Buffy, and I engaged the fandom.

It's that engagement, the stories of how an online message board for the discussion of symbolism in a TV show about vampires & teenagers could turn into a living, breathing community that fascinated me. She talks about conventions & meet-ups, of how virtual connections turned into face-2-face connections...

...and I'm instantly transported back to my days on (anyone else out there remember Usenet?!) and how I hooked up with a gamer across town by the name of Rob Wood. I decided for safety's sake to meet him at the church I worked at, along with my friends Chris & Buster. That was in the spring of 1997... and by the fall of that year, he'd introduced me to Ted Cheatham, another online buddy who came through town on business & was always up for playing games.

Ted was my connection to what was to become Gulf Games, a wonderful twice-a-year invitation only family gaming event - which he started with Greg Schloesser (When they first met after chatting over the Internet, BOTH of their wives were sure they were about to go meet an axe murderer) & Ty Douds.

Over the years, I've conversed with literally hundreds of gamers online - both inside & outside the U.S. Friendships have been formed from the constant communication - as Allyson so beautifully puts it in her book:

It's been three years since the series finale of Buffy aired, and I still have a hard time telling people just how it is that I have a bed in which to sleep in thirty-two states and five countries.

Someday, it'll be socially acceptable to say, "Oh, we can stop in Des Moines for dinner. I know a couple of Vampire People there."

The next chapter is about her relationship with one of the writers of the show - and the odd blend of friendship & hero worship that can happen online. I've seen the same thing play out with some of the game designers in the board gaming world... again, a familiar resonant chord.

And at that point, the book pretty much takes a dive. (Told you I'd get all reviewer-like.) One really nice chapter about bringing an online friend to visit the U.S. (a cooperative effort by the online community) goes on too long, including pages of e-mails that really only have meaning to those who originally wrote them. (Did the editor fall asleep at the switch here?) There's some interesting bits about "Munchausens By Internet" and trying to save Firefly, but the strongest parts of the book are all up front.

Best part of reading the book: being reminded that I need to thank God for the gift of my internet family. Thank you, Jesus, for using something as mundane as an iMac to draw people into my life to love & be loved by...

Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Braeden & His Mighty Men of Syracuse

Our first game of Command & Colors: Ancients - we're both getting used to the new rules (to us!) of "evade" and the wise use of leaders... and the ease of battle back! Yikes. (Honestly, I made some dumb flanking attacks that he batted back - and then he made a really wise pursuit on my left flank that took me out of the game.)

Scenario: Akragas

  • Carthage: 4 (me)
  • Syracuse: 5 (Braeden)

This Could SO Easily Be Me

from, no surprise, the Dilbert site...

Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Heroscape Update

As I reported a couple of weeks ago, Braeden & I have been fighting the mother of all Heroscape battles. Well, this afternoon, the fighting finally ended when Braeden's last Marro Drudge, high atop the castle tower, surrendered to the remains of my once mighty force: some Knights, a couple of Minutemen, and a couple of Omicron Snipers. (It was a good decision on his part - the Minutemen & Snipers both have longer range than the Drudge and could have picked him off.)

BTW, here's how we did a 2 player battle with two HUGE (1400+ point) armies... each one of us used two sets of order markers. You could choose which of your "1" markers (for example) you wanted to use first. The flexibility made for some interesting choices in placing orders - and the extra markers meant that you could move most of your large army if you spread the orders out. I don't know that I'd play this big a scenario very often - but it sure was a lot of fun!

In other Heroscape news, we finally found Wave 7 at one of our local Target stores... so our next project is a Soulborg v. Undead battle, utilizing a number of the new figures. I'll keep y'all posted.

The picture is from Erik Arneson's About Board Games site, which probably has the best Heroscape coverage out there of the "normal" gaming sites. It's a pile of Marro from inside the playtest room at Hasbro!