Thursday, December 31, 2009

Five & Dime 2009 - Hey, It's Time!

That's right, kids & kiddettes... it's time to start up those spreadsheets and/or fire up the Geek and make our your five & dime game lists for 2009. And then, of course, send 'em to your crazy ol' Uncle Mark so he can mash 'em together & turn out stuff like the 2008 Five & Dime Report.

Want more details? Go to my post on the Geek and give it a big Ebert & Siskel thumbs up.

Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Glennz: Secret Habit

This is the T-shirt I'm wearing today... and it's one of the many VERY funny designs from Glennz Tees. (I first saw one at Doug Garrett's Bay Area gaming shindig back in 2008... and three of them ended up under the tree this year with my name on it, as well as a desktop calendar.) Here's the other two shirts I received:
By the way, they're having an end of year sale this week...

How Much Life Insurance Do You Have?

Once again, James Emery White manages to hit one out of the park... if you're a church leader, you must go right now and read his entire blog post, "How Much Life Insurance?" A short sample:

“How much life insurance do you have?”

According to a recent blog by Seth Godin, Zig Ziglar liked to say that with that one question, you could tell if someone was a successful life insurance agent. “If they’re not willing to buy it with their own money, how can they honestly persuade someone else to do so?”

Godin went on to note that if you are in the music business, but you never buy tickets or downloads, can you really empathize with the people you’re selling to?

His favorite: If you work for a non-profit and you don’t give money to charity, what exactly are you doing in this job? “And the shame of it,” Godin adds, “is that this inaction on their part keeps them from experiencing the very emotion that they try so hard to sell.”

And then he goes on to apply that to ministry and proceeds to shine a bright light into the often dark & musty corners where our motivations hide. Like I said earlier, a MUST read.

Monday, December 28, 2009

3 Things Pastors Secretly Pray For

Stuff Christians Like #676: Secretly hoping your city's NFL team stinks so people will come to church.
3. That parents with screaming kids will take them to Sunday School. Hot topic, hot topic, but pastors of the world, I got your back. Imagine if you were at work, in a cubicle and someone came over and said, “Hey, I’m going to sit my screaming 2 year old right here on your filing cabinet. He’s going to scream and throw whatever objects are within his grasp for the next 30 minutes while you work.”
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Friday, December 25, 2009

Merry Christmas!

About that time Caesar Augustus ordered a census to be taken throughout the Empire. This was the first census when Quirinius was governor of Syria. Everyone had to travel to his own ancestral hometown to be accounted for. So Joseph went from the Galilean town of Nazareth up to Bethlehem in Judah, David's town, for the census. As a descendant of David, he had to go there. He went with Mary, his fiancée, who was pregnant.

While they were there, the time came for her to give birth. She gave birth to a son, her firstborn. She wrapped him in a blanket and laid him in a manger, because there was no room in the hostel.

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."

At once the angel was joined by a huge angelic choir singing God's praises:
Glory to God in the heavenly heights, Peace to all men and women on earth who please him.

As the angel choir withdrew into heaven, the sheepherders talked it over. "Let's get over to Bethlehem as fast as we can and see for ourselves what God has revealed to us." They left, running, and found Mary and Joseph, and the baby lying in the manger. Seeing was believing. They told everyone they met what the angels had said about this child. All who heard the sheepherders were impressed.

Mary kept all these things to herself, holding them dear, deep within herself. The sheepherders returned and let loose, glorifying and praising God for everything they had heard and seen. It turned out exactly the way they'd been told!

from Luke 2 (The Message)

Monday, December 21, 2009

Stocking Stuffer Games + Amazon Prime

This weekend, I blogged a bit about Eric's stocking stuff podcast... and thought about adding a few suggestions of my own. Here's 10 really great stocking stuffer games that you can have by Christmas Eve thanks to the magic of Amazon Prime shipping. (While I do receive review copies on a regular basis from Haba & Gamewright, Amazon gives me nothing. I wish they would, of course, but they don't.)
  • Ark (Rio Grande) - not really a kid's game (despite the charming art)... this is a card placement game where you are one of Noah's helpers trying to load the ark so that the wrong animals don't get put in the same cabin. I'm a big fan of this game & think it got sadly overlooked a few years back when it was released. $14.03 is a nice price... and the Ark Extra Mix expansion is only $3.99 with Prime shipping as well! (I haven't reviewed this game... but I'd be honored to teach it to anyone who asks. You could also read Susan L's excellent review.)
  • Can You See What I See? (Gamewright) - a game for the preschoolers in your house... this is a sturdy & enjoyable bingo-ish game that has inspired deep love in my 4 year old. $15.00 is a good price. (Read my review!)
  • Dancing Dice (Mayfair) - as long as you have family members/friends who don't cheat (there's a lot of hidden actions taken in this game), this is a very fun dice game about marathon dancing that's actually more enjoyable with more players! You'll need a big stocking to fit it in, but it's a big deal at only $10! (I haven't reviewed this game - but I really like it, as does my lovely wife, Shari - the non-gamer in the family. You can read Eric V's review, though.)
  • Duck Duck Bruce (Gamewright) - originally published in Germany as "Kleine Fische", (Little Fish), this is a great push-your-luck game that works with kids as young as four & has whimsical duck/dog art to make it even more enjoyable. Well worth $9.55... and you can find this even cheaper sometimes in Target or other stores that carry Gamewright card games. (Read my review!)
  • Ka-Ching! (Gamewright) - originally released in Germany as "Combit", I like this less abstract version better. It's a two-player game of investment chicken... not so much for the kids but great for ages 10+ who like quick-moving but think-y games. The price is right, too - $8.97. (I haven't reviewed this... but I'd be happy to get a copy for Christmas! Meanwhile, read Tom Vasel's review.)
  • Keep It Steady (Haba) - better known by the German name (Zitternix), this is a very clever game of vertical Pick-Up-Stix. A favorite with adults & kids... $17.00. (I haven't reviewed Zitternix, but I'm very glad I own a copy - thanks to Dave Vander Ark for showing it to me originally!)
  • Pig Pile (R&R Games) - it's lighter than air & extremely silly (you keep score with plastic piggies!) but it's become a family favorite in the "better than Uno" light card game genre. A bit pricey at $20.54 but it can be there by Christmas! (I haven't reviewed this game - I've just been playing it consistently since it was released. Neil Thomson has a nice review of it on the Geek.)
  • Pirate's Blast (Haba) - another game possibly better known by the German title (Das Schwarze Pirat: Das Duell). Translated, that's "The Black Pirate: The Duel" and it's a two-player version of the award-winning "The Black Pirate" game. This is a dexterity game of sorts - where two players use air pumps to blow their ships about the table... and fire on them with tiny wooden cannons! This is a STEAL at $12.97! (Read my review!)
  • Pocket Battles: Celts vs. Romans (Z-Man Games) - the first in a planned series of small tile-based 30 minute wargames, this is the only stocking stuffer on the list that I haven't played. I want to - a lot - but it just came out. It would be a treat for any gamer on your list - for example, me! $15.00 is a little higher than you see it in the standard online gaming locations - but Amazon Prime = free 2 day shipping, so it pretty much evens out. (Of course, I haven't reviewed it... but Mike Siggins has.)
  • The Suitcase Detectives (Haba) - a clever & creatively designed smuggling game... can you find the stolen items?! A great deal at $14.54! (Read my review!)

Friday, December 18, 2009

Stocking Stuffers & Party Games

My friend & one-time game convention roomie, Eric Burgess, has a nifty podcast about boardgaming entitled, aptly enough, Boardgame Babylon. (Get it? "Babble on." He's a card, that Eric Burgess.) We keep talking about me being a guest on the show, but I think he's too busy hobnobbing with game designers to give me the time of day. (The preceding sentence is a joke - Eric is a really nice guy!)

His latest podcast is about stocking stuffers & party games... I just wanted to make comments on the podcast & point you in his direction:
  • I really, really am tempted to buy Small World in order to buy the expansions... I have a serious expansion fever problem.
  • I'm curious - for those of us who are not fans of Ticket to Ride: Europe (but love the original game), is the 1912 expansion worth the money?
  • Didn't know that Trendy had been reprinted as Horse Fair... you should go buy this game immediately.
  • I'll 2nd & 3rd Eric's suggestion of Wits & Wagers (and Say Anything!) as great party games.
  • Eric mentioned Ring-O Flamingo... I'll be doing a review of the game later this weekend. Short preview: my review is positive.
  • Finally, where we disagree: Monopoly is NOT tedious unless the players make it that way.
Thanks for a great podcast, Eric!

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Small World Christmas

It's Christmas time at Disneyland... and for the first time in 3 years, we aren't there. (This would be the appropriate time to say "thanks" to my Imagineering buddy for getting us in last year & to Klutz Publishing for making me a consultant the year before that paid for most of our trip... and to the folks @ NewLife, who are incredibly generous about vacation time for myself & the rest of the staff.)

One of the added bonuses of homeschooling our kids (in tandem with me pastoring a church) is the flexibility it allows us in taking vacations - we're not restricted to weekends, holidays & summer. In fact, weekends are pretty much out (seems the good people of NewLife Community would like me to show up on Sunday mornings & talk to 'em!). So, we go to Disneyland during the week while public school is still in session between Thanksgiving & Christmas.. meaning the crowds are low, the park is decorated beautifully & there are fireworks every night.

I really do have a spiritual point to this... hang on a minute.

The first time we went (back in 2003 - Braeden was only 2 years old!), we had a number of wonderful experiences:
  • taking pictures of Braeden & Shari riding Dumbo from the elephant in front of them - which is almost a perfect echo of a picture my dad took of my mom & me 40 years ago
  • riding Heimlich's Chew Chew Train enough times that we memorized all the dialogue... (btw, one of the downsides of low crowds - if your kid likes a ride, you're going to get to see a lot of it)
  • Braeden getting his picture taken with Mickey... and as he left, turning around & running back to hug him and tell him, "I love you, Mickey."
But the particular memory I want to focus on is standing in line for It's A Small World right around dusk. They turn off all the surrounding lights... there's some dramatic music... and then the colored lights come on all at once. There's an almost collective gasp/intake of breath at the beauty of the moment... and then people erupt into spontaneous cheers. (I've seen this a number of times now - in fact, we try to time it so that we're near Small World around dusk if we can - and it's the same response every time.)

That moment awe & wonder, that childlike delight in the lights & the music & the "magic" of Disneyland - frankly, that's just a taste of what we're meant to enjoy when we realize the meaning of the Christmas celebration. We are kneeling (physically or metaphorically) at the feet of a baby who is fully man & fully God, who will - in a short 33 years - give Himself up on the cross in order to pay for all the cruddy, evil, horrible things we've done. We are in the presence of God - it's worth a gasp of breath & an eruption of cheering & praise.

I love to turn the lights on our Christmas tree... particularly when it's dark in the living room. It reminds me - just a bit - of the amazing show Disneyland puts on each night through the holidays. I want to challenge myself (and you, by extension) to be reminded each time you see the lights wink on & the room fill with color to remember the amazing grace of God that He showed so clearly through the birth of Jesus Christ.

Merry Christmas!

P.S. If you'd like to read more about Disneyland at Christmas, you can check out my Disney-related posts on my blog:

It's a small world... at Christmas

Picture originally uploaded by


A prison cell, in which one waits, hopes...and is completely dependent on the fact that the door of freedom has to be opened from the outside, is not a bad picture of Advent.

Dietrich Bonhoeffer, 1943

Fremantle Prison: The Cells Originally uploaded by garry.pettet

Kid Games Reviews: Wiggling Cow

Wiggling Cow

  • designer: Brigitte Pokornik
  • publisher: Haba
  • date: 2009
  • BoardGameGeek rank/rating: not ranked/4.33
  • age: 6+
  • # of players: 1-4
  • print status: in print
  • cost: $21.59 (

My feelings about this game have been a veritable roller coaster of highs & lows:

  • LOW (looking at the cover when Haba shipped it to me) - who in the world OK'd the English name? Maybe it's me, but it just sounds wrong. (Though not as wrong as Pocket Rockets - which actually sounds like a decent kids game but won't be entering my house because I don't want to have to keep my boys from loudly talking about their "pocket rockets" and not realize what kind of problems they're causing me & their mother.)
  • HIGH (opening the box for the first time) - the cow is very, very cute & well-made. The tiles are thick & chunky... and there's a wooden fork in here! As usual, excellent components from Haba.
  • LOW (after our first play) - did we do something wrong? Why wasn't this any fun? The idea seemed promising... but our first play left us cold.
  • HIGH (after playing with our problem "fixed") - Aha! The primary audience for this game is kids... this is a dexterity game that little guys (for example, my 4 year old) can play.
So, I'm guessing you'll want to know how we "fixed" the game... but before we get to that, I need to explain the game.

See, there's this cow, standing on a pile of hay (tiles). We (for some unexplained reason) need to get the hay without tipping the cow over. (Yes, I realize I've made subtle reference to the sport of cow tipping - now move along.) Using the wooden fork, each of us tease one (and only one!) piece out from under the cow and off the edge of the board. If you knock the cow over, you don't get a tile that turn & reset the cow for the next player. The game ends when all of the tiles are gone or (this hasn't happened yet) all of the players tip the cow over in succession. The most tiles wins.

There's a variant scoring rule which we use as a regular rule - the tiles have 1-3 flowers on each side... and some of the tiles have different amounts on opposite sides. When you take a tile, you get as many points as there are flowers on one side of the tile - whichever side you like!

And now that you understand the intricate workings & strategic depth of the game (he says, grinning), I can share with you our "fix": don't EVER put the cow on one tile. If you do, the cow will essentially "surf" on this tile while the players tease out tiles with impunity. You need to place the cow with her front legs on one tile & her back legs on another. Seriously, that took the game from "so what?" to "this is a lot of fun."

I will say that Wiggling Cow has worked best with kids or with mixed groups of adults & kids. It's not one of those "kid games that adults play when the kids are bed" kind of games... but it is a great deal of fun and very accessible even for age 4+.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Kid Game Reviews: Casino Hot Dog

Casino Hot Dog
  • designer: Wolfgang Dirscherl
  • publisher: Haba
  • date: 2008
  • BoardGameGeek rank/rating: not ranked/5.36
  • age: 7+
  • # of players: 2-4
  • print status: in print
  • cost: $28.79 (
Chances are pretty good you've seen a picture of dogs playing poker... you know what I'm talking about, right? I've even got a Peanuts T-shirt with Snoopy & his various relatives arranged in similar fashion. Well, when Haba decided to put bags filled with poker chips in a game about dogs racing across the yard, it's no surprise that you're reminded of the ubiquitous paintings. (The box cover art is just icing on the cake.)

BTW, these are not your average kids game poker chips - or even the nicer Hasbro/Avalon Hill chips that you find in Vegas Showdown and Axis & Allies: D-Day. These are the real deal - they've got weight/heft (or whatever poker players like to say about good chips) and are custom printed for this game. (How do I know they're custom printed? I'm guessing not too many standard poker chip sets include a dog poop chip.)

The game itself is a race game (be the first to zoom across the board) powered by a push-your-luck mechanic. The first player (which rotates each turn) rolls two dice that tell the dogs (aka "players") what the prizes will be for this round. It's either a number of spaces or a golden bone... and there are golden bones scattered along the track.

Then the players reach into their bag & grab (sight unseen) one of their chips. They are revealed... and then the game begins in earnest! The players must now decide if they will:

  • reach into their bag & fake drawing out a chip (in other words, choosing to stand with the number on their chip) OR
  • reach into their bag & draw out another chip

Those next chips (or empty hands) are revealed... and the process is repeated until all of the players have stopped drawing chips... or found their dog poop tile. (Finding doo-doo puts you in deep doo-doo, at least for that round - you're knocked out of the running.)

The two players with the highest totals will get prizes, with the highest total choosing first. If there's a tie, the player closest clockwise to the "first player" goes first.

There is one other wrinkle (which can be ignored when playing with younger children) - there is a 2x chip which multiplies the value of all your other chips. I like that simply removing this chip makes the game easily playable with kids who can do basic addition.

Press-your-luck games are always interesting with kids... just like adults, some are unable to quit drawing chips until things go wrong, while others are completely unwilling to take risks. This would be a wonderful game to train kids in judging probabilities & rate of return (though if you use those particular words in trying to teach the underlying concepts to a 6 year old, you need your examined).

My 8 year old son loves this game - and only partly because he gets to use the word "poop" when we play. He isn't perfect at judging the odds, but he's old enough to figure out his chances for himself. My 4 year old son is less enthused by it... but he's willing to play. I myself think it's good light fun - but it IS a press-your-luck game, so if you're turned off by those kind of things, run away now.And while the rules say it will work with 2 players, it's not nearly as fun as playing with 3 or 4.

Monday, December 14, 2009

Lego Toy Story 3!

7596 Trash Compactor Escape Originally uploaded by fbtb

Man, my wallet is in SO much trouble next fall.

For more info, check out this page on From Bricks to Bothans.

I've Been Wearing My Santa Hat

OK, this is a short apology for not blogging more.

Well, maybe not as short as it should be, as I feel obliged to explain myself. I've been Christmas shopping (there's nothing like working your way through a crowd of irritable rain-soaked shoppers on Saturday afternoon in a Wal-Mart) and Christmas gift making and Christmas sermon writing.

I've also been playing some games:
  • Braeden & I pulled out Sub Search again, which is great fun. Our game last night was a nail-biter: both of us were down to one sub & one surface ship each... and I managed to sink his sub before he could torpedo my PT boat.
  • I also taught him to play Phantoms of the Ice... it's basically the card game "War" on steroids, but the pun-tacular names (Stu Late and Behind Hugh, for example) are right up his alley. I'm guessing we'll end up playing it again this afternoon with his best friend, Canaan.
  • And in serious "blast from the distant past" mode, Canaan & I taught him how to play Chinese Checkers. Man, I haven't played that since I was in middle school.

I've got three reviews percolating (Wiggling Cow, Casino Hot Dog & Ring-O Flamingo), so watch for them later this week. Also, I'll be putting together my "Top Ten Books of 2009" list pretty soon.

And, since my life isn't busy enough, the Five & Dime Report is waiting just around the corner.

Saturday, December 05, 2009

I Would Play 100 Times... and I Would Play 100 More

The Proclaimers are just here because (a) they're cool, (b) they make a lovely musical soundtrack for reading my blog, (c) the song reminds me of how much I love my wife, and (d) it inspired the title of this post.

So, I taught Braeden to play Carcassonne tonight... and when I entered the play into my database at the Geek, I realized that it was my 100th game of Carc. That got me wondering - what other games had I played that many times?

The list is smaller than you'd think, based on my life long obsession with board games, but I've only been tracking game play since the middle of 1998 in an over-the-top OCD-ish spreadsheet kind of way.
  • Race for the Galaxy 302 (264 using The Gathering Storm expansion) - This is a 30 minute card game that scales well from 2-6 players AND has a very addictive official solitaire version. I figure about half of those plays are multiplayer games. (Braeden is also learning how to play this - we just added the first expansion last week.)
  • StreetSoccer 136 - A lot of these game were/are online (I've got 2 going right now) at I dearly love this backgammon-ish soccer game.
  • Lost Cities 116 - At one time, Shari's favorite card game - though now she likes Lost Cities: The Board Game better (less tension).
  • The Settlers of Catan 102 - I know for certain that I've played this at least 50 more times (pre-'98) than are recorded here... and would have played it a lot more if my local group (the Fresno Gamers) wasn't pretty much burned out on it. It's still in my top ten games after all these years.
  • Carcassonne 100 - I play some of this online - but I think this tile-layer is actually more fun in person. Braeden enjoyed himself tonight & is ready for more.
There are two games which are close to 100:
  • Can't Stop 90 - great push your luck dice game... I think it is Sid Sackson's greatest work. I don't get to play it much anymore, though.
  • Memoir '44 90 - Another one of my top ten games... the Campaign Book has kicked my number of plays up big-time, for which I am very grateful. I should cross the 100 threshold sometime in early 2010.

Kid Games 100: Recap

Back in June of 2008, I decided to create my own list of the top 100 Kid Games. It took me a long time (more than a year) to get the whole thing blogged out... and I'm still in the process of copying the reviews over to the Geek. (A number of them also appear on Erik Arneson's board games site on

The following links will help you find your way to the key posts in the series... but if you want to see all 127 of them, you can use the Kid Games label link. When the Kid Games 100 was finally finished, I realized that I needed to explain why a number of games were missing... so the MIA Games posts began:

Five & Dime: 2008 Recap

Wow. I've been trying to clean up my blog site and realized I actually never put the compiler post with all the links to the Five & Dime: 2008 report. So, here it is.

I first began keeping track of the Five & Dime lists back in 1999... and here it is, 2009. Meaning I've been doing this for eleven (11) years. Either I'm very thorough or verging on OCD. (You choose.)

Here's the all the links for the 2008 Five & Dime reports.
And here's the links for graphic 'over time' comparisons of the top games, which I call Wide Angle Lens: BTW, we're only a month away from doing the 2009 Five & Dime (he says, taking a deep breath.)

Let's Keep This Simple

OK, I've got your emails. I've seen your Facebook "Cause" requests. You have made yourself heard:

"We must fight to keep Christ in Christmas!"
I just have to ask, who in the heck are "we" supposed to be fighting? Santa? His elves? Jack Skellington? The evil forces of commercialism?

And, please, AFA, claiming credit for getting the Gap to use the word "Christmas" in one of their TV ads? Re-donk-u-lous. Irate conservative Christians, despite the panic talk you hear from some liberals, are not a power group. A noisy group, yes, but not a powerful one.

I have an important suggestion. If you believe that Christmas is the celebration of the birth of Jesus Christ, then celebrate it that way. Keeping Christ in Christmas starts with you, not with some trumped-up media campaign.

I'm afraid that all people outside the Bible Bubble are hearing is "Your version of Christmas stinks & we have plans to snatch it out of your hands." Is there no way for us to be marked by what we believe in instead of what we're against?!

Sigh. photo on Flickr by mtsofan

Thursday, December 03, 2009

Behold the Lamb of God

If you live in or near any of these cities, go buy tickets NOW for this amazing & wonderful Christmas concert. Andrew Peterson is a great songwriter, performer & just a really, really nice guy with a quirky sense of humor and deep love for Jesus. (Here's the tour website.)
  • Dec. 3 Elmhurst, IL
  • Dec. 4 Lincoln, NE
  • Dec. 5 Topeka, KS
  • Dec. 9 Louisville, KY
  • Dec. 11 Cleburne, TX
  • Dec. 12 Jackson, TN
  • Dec. 13 Huntsville, AL
  • Dec. 14 Birmingham, AL
  • Dec. 16 Charlotte, NC
  • Dec. 17 Nashville, TN - Ryman
  • Dec. 18 Kokomo, IN
  • Dec. 19 Montague, MI
  • Dec. 20 Milford, OH
If, like me, you live too far away, begin weeping & wailing now. Alternately, you can buy the new 10th anniversary CD set of Behold the Lamb of God from The Rabbit Room website.

Monday, November 30, 2009

Heroscape For Beginners (and Robo)

I received a very kind comment from Robo (another gamer dad) about Attacktix and A&A Minis (haven't tried those - with all of the systems I currently collect, a collectible minis game would be like putting a black hole directly into my wallet)... and about his plans to get into Heroscape this next year.

Well, as someone who has been into Heroscape from the beginning, I figured I would suggest a potential order of acquisition and a pair of hints about being sucked into this obsession. We'll start with the hints...
  • First, all the signs are good for continued support of the game & system by Wizards of the Coast/Hasbro... with a new Master Set coming out early next year and two more waves of figures definite, you should be able to feed your addiction for a long time to come.
  • Second, you need to know two web addresses: (a fan-run site... they have the most extensive collection of commentary, rulings, variants & maps for Heroscape out there) and (the official site of the game).
OK, with those out of the way, let's get to the buying! Heroscape has been packaged in (primarily) three different formats:
  • Master Sets (which contain a decent amount of terrain as well as a variety of figures)
  • Large Expansion Sets (which focus on larger figures or specialized terrain)
  • Waves (which are sets of 4 figure packs, sometimes tied together thematically)

There are 3 Master Sets:

  • Rise of the Valkryie - this was the first set & probably the most important one for you to own. It contains a CHUNK of terrain as well as an interesting mix of characters.
  • Swarm of the Marro - this was the second set... it's not as vital as Rise (#1) but still has some good stuff in it - not the least of which is the amazing Marro Hive. This would be my second purchase if I was jumping into the game.
  • Marvel Heroscape - unless you want to play Heroscape with Marvel characters, I don't recommend this set. There is very little terrain & the villians vs heroes battles don't have much oomph to them - their range & movement is such that there's nowhere to hide and you just end up dicing it out. (Note: my son & I had a great time fighting a monster battle of Marvels vs Heroscapes... but that's not quite the same thing.) It doesn't look like they will be doing a 2nd Marvel set, either - sigh.

There is a fourth Master set on the way - Battle for the Underdark - which is tied to the current D&D universe but will be fully compatible with Heroscape. (Word on the street is that the next two Waves will also be D&D connected.) I don't mind as long as support for the game continues - bring on the Dora the Explorer & Diego Heroscape figs if that will keep it going!

There are 8 Large Expansion Sets... we'll start with the three that contain large characters: Orm's Return, Raknar's Vision & Acquilla Alliance. The reason I don't break them out is that they all contain 5 large figures (some of them 2 space figures) and are roughly equal in value. If you feel a need to give every faction (Heroscape divides the different characters into six different factions) a dragon (or dragon-ish) mini, then you'll want all three of these. I wouldn't start by buying these... but part of the joy of Heroscape is playing with the big figures against squads of smaller figs.

The 5 Large Expansion Sets that are terrain-based are:

  • Road to the Forgotten Forest - this one has trees, roads & a bridge. You need at least one if not two of these.
  • Volcarren Wasteland - this one adds lava & volcanic rock... and while it's nice to look at, we haven't found much use for it in game terms. Don't worry about getting this one.
  • Thaelenk Tundra - this one adds snow & ice & some cool-looking "glacier" pieces... I have one of these & wish I had two.
  • Fortress of the Archkyrie - this one gives you a bunch of pieces to build a castle with... one of these is nice (two would be better) but I'd put this farther down my list after getting more characters/squads.
  • Ticalla Jungle - this one adds palm trees & jungle bushes... I bought two and have used them a good bit, as they add some interesting cover issues to the game.

To sum up, you need at least one of Forgotten Forest, Tundra & Jungle... with plans to get Fortress & more terrain down the line.

Now we move onto the Waves... since each wave has 4 packs, I'll try to specify which ones I like & don't like in each set, then give you a buy/don't bother list at the end. Also, each Wave has at least one pack of "heroes" (individual figures) which is pretty much a guaranteed buy each time.

  • Wave One (Malliddon's Prophecy) - All three of the squad packs (Snipers/Vipers, Orc Gruts & Romans) work better if you have two of each pack. (Hey - no one said that this was going to be a cheap obsession, right?!)
  • Wave Two (Utgar's Rage) - the Minions of Utgar aren't all that great... and the Marro Drones that they're packaged w/really need 3 sets (seriously!) to be worth using, so you can wait on that pack. The other two packs are good to go out of the box (Swog Rider/Knights and Wolves/Massachusets Line).
  • Wave Three (Jandar's Oath) - the biggest problem here is that the Gorillanators (how cool are heavily armed gorillas!?) don't really shine until the addition of the Nakita Agents in Wave 6. Otherwise, a fine set of squad packs.
  • Wave Four (Zanafor's Discovery) - there were two packs of heroes this time... and another group (the Gladiatrons) who need a pack from another Wave (the Blastatrons from Wave 5) to work well. The Arnoc Vipers are cool but are paired with the Sacred Band - sigh. I'd buy the hero packs & wait on the squads here.
  • Wave Five (Thora's Vengeance) - a solid set of squads & heroes... we don't use the gladiators much, but they look really good.
  • Wave Six (Dawn of Darkness) - Zombies are here... and you may want two of them. (Can't skimp on the zombies, right?!) You don't need two of anything else... but this could well be one of my favorite waves.
  • Wave Seven (Fields of Valor) - The Ashigaru Spearman & Yari need Kato Katsuro (a hero from Wave 8) to work well... but are very effective with him. The Vampire clan (found in one squad pack + the hero pack) is fun to play with. I love the Templar Cavalry, but their use has to be confined to certain boards with large open spaces.
  • Wave Eight (Defenders of Kinsland) - Finally the Elves become a group worth putting together, thanks to the addition of a number of elf heroes... but overall you need to purchase Waves 7 & 8 together.
  • Wave Nine (Blackmoon Siege) - a great wave - I wouldn't miss out on any of these packs.
  • Wave Ten (Valkrill's Gambit) - the Heroes of Renown pack has two heroes & one squad that were only available through cons and/or special purchase previously - and the Warriors of Feldspar are repaints of the Yeti & Lava guys to make them (respectively) Sasquatch & Granite guys. The other two packs are reprints of earlier packs that are hard to find.

Finally, there are two figures that were released only at the summer conventions (Master Win Choo & Agent Skahen) that are difficult/impossible to find. There were also five "flagbearers" sold in individual boxes (along with a bag of faction dice) through Toys-R-Expensive that are now out of print. None of these are essential, though I will admit that the faction dice are pretty cool.

So, to sum up your buying list (with pricing & links from Wargamers HQ, who have done a great job in the past for me):

  1. Buy Rise of the Valkryie ($30)
  2. Buy Swarm of the Marro ($30)
  3. Buy at least one Road to the Forgotten Forest ($18)

You've now spent roughly $70 and you've got enough to play a number of very enjoyable games of Heroscape. From there, do your reading (see the links above) and buy more terrain & figures. Anticipate tossing down $40 every 8 months or so for the newest wave or expansion.

And have fun!

Saturday, November 28, 2009

Habalicious: The "Experts" Chime In

Well, it's the Christmas shopping season & I know that regular readers of my blog realize that I will personally egg the houses of those folks who give their children Candyland or Chutes & Ladders for Christmas. So I thought I'd recommend some great Haba games for you to purchase.

Then I decided you've probably heard enough from me about kid games over the last 18 months... and the plan to bring in some guest experts was born!

Expert #1 is Braeden Jackson... my first born son. He had four years before his brother arrived in the world (plus a couple of years while Collin was too small to game) to be indoctrinated into the world of gaming. His tastes at eight and a half years run to Pandemic, Battle Masters, Star Wars: Epic Duels, Battle Ball, Heroscape & Battlelore. (Are you detecting a theme?)

What follows are his Top Ten Haba Games, complete with comments about what he likes best about the games. (The games w/links lead you to, who has an excellent selection of Haba games)
  1. Casino Hot Dog - "The poop chip!"
  2. Hungry Wolves - "Awesome... making noises & running around the table."
  3. Turtle Twiddle - "The soccer game is my favorite."
  4. Fleet Fins - "I like the SPEED."
  5. At Full Throttle - "Very quick."
  6. Castle Knights - "The pictures are funny."
  7. Tolle Torte - "It's almost exactly like Fleet Fins except the stuff is moving."
  8. The Suitcase Detectives - "I like being the crook & hiding the stuff."
  9. Maus nach haus (Hula Hippos) - "The aim & luck part..."
  10. Karambolage - "I like the aiming." (He's actually pretty good at this.)
Expert #2, Collin Jackson, is 4 years old. He wants to play the same games his big brother does... but his attention span is a bit shorter (read: normal). His imagination runs wild - he loves to get out games & use the pieces to make up stories. His favorite new game is Can You See What I See?

What follows are his Top Ten Haba Games, complete with comments about what he likes best about the games.
  1. Drops & Co. - "I like that you have to get rid of all the candy."
  2. Maus nach Haus - "I like that there is a hippo one now."
  3. Fleet Fins - "I like that there's really scary teeth guys on the fish."
  4. Marrakesh - "I like that it's really fun & really, really want to get the spices."
  5. Cheese Snatching - "I like it because you're the same guy running away from the cat. You don't get any cheese if he catches you."
  6. Chicken Squabble - "I really like to win because I won last night."
  7. Animal Upon Animal - "I like the new animals (in the expansion) - they are all good."
  8. Orchard: the Card Game - "I really like that you don't want the raven... you really want fruit."
  9. Charly at the Zoo - "I really like that he gets to sleep but I don't win very much."
  10. Little Thunder Witch - "I really would like to win."
You may have noticed that the only repeated game (Fleet Fins) is now out of print... sigh. It's not impossible to find, though... I tracked down a copy this morning at FunAgain Games. Maus nach haus is published in the USA by Gamewright as Hula Hippos. Karambolage is supposed to be coming back in at Fair Play Games. Marrakesh is tougher to locate... but Game Surplus comes through again!

Drops & Co. and Tolle Torte, OTOH, are both OOP and very difficult to locate. Good luck!

Friday, November 27, 2009

Thanksgiving Prayer

This is from the liturgy at the Easton Community Thanksgiving Service... my church is incredibly not liturgical (the whole written prayer is so NOT Baptist) but this was incredibly meaningful to me. (I meant to post this yesterday but the activities of the day got in the way.)

O God, when we have food, help us to remember the hungry. When we have work, help us to remember the jobless. When we have a home, help us to remember those who have no home at all. When we are without pain, help us to remember those who suffer. And remembering, help us to destroy our complacency, bestir our compassion, and be concerned enough to help. Remind us, at all times, that all we have is a gift from You to be used for Your glory. Guide us to attend to Your children who cry out for what we take for granted.

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

The Golden Geek Awards 2009: Fluff Daddy Does Commentary

The Golden Geek Awards were just announced last weekend during BGG.con... these are "game of the year" awards voted on by the folks who frequent Board Game Geek. What follows is my commentary on the awards (and some of the nominees).

Game of the Year and Card Game:
  • A very interesting deck-building card game that frankly lost a lot of points with me for how long it takes to set up & put away (sorting & re-sorting cards) and for the constant shuffling that really requires you spend a small fortune to put plastic card sleeves on the game. That said, Dominion is a BLAST to play online where the computer does the set-up, shuffling & score-keeping for you.
  • For Card Game, I'd probably have chosen Race for the Galaxy: The Gathering Storm or Witch's Brew. For Game of the Year, I'd have to go with Pandemic.

Gamer's Game: Le Havre

  • This probably violates some kind of Geek law... but I haven't played Le Havre yet. I'm not against the game, or the theme... and I'm a huge fan of the designer. I just look at it set up at various cons & game nights and think to myself, "I'm not sure I want to get into that."
  • Of the nominees, I'd much prefered to see Endeavor or Space Alert win. (And don't give me any grief about Space Alert not being a "gamer's game" - YOU try teaching it to a bunch of non-gamers.)

Family Game: Pandemic

  • In a category filled with great games, it's nice to see them pick the one that is original, fun & appealing to a wide variety of folks. Pandemic is great - and made even better by the addition of the expansion, Pandemic: On The Brink... which won Best Expansion, naturally.
  • If Pandemic was put on the injured reserve list & couldn't play, I'd go with Fast Flowing Forest Fellers or Snow Tails - both splendid racing games.

2-Player Game and Best Artwork & Presentation: Space Hulk (3rd Edition)

  • A long time ago in a galaxy far, far away, I owned Space Hulk (the 1st edition) and played it. A lot. I never painted the minis (discretion is the better part of valor and/or I flunked out of kindergarden art) but that didn't lessen the fun we had with it. Eventually, though, the amount of cash I could score by selling it & the one expansion I had (about $400) outweighed how little I was playing it, and it went bye-bye thanks to eBay. Can't ever see myself plunking down $100 to own it again... esp. since one of the guys in my group so kindly opened his wallet and purchased it (thanks, Will!).
  • My dark horse (in other words: NOT going to win) favorite for 2 player games was Shanghaien... and as pretty as Space Hulk is (or can be in the right hands), Dixit or Tales of the Arabian Nights are much more stunning straight out of the box. (For that matter, Timber Tom is breathtaking, but never got a wide enough release to be considered.)

Wargame: Combat Commander: Pacific

  • I used to be a pretty serious wargamer back in the day (Squad Leader, Wooden Ships & Iron Men, Third Reich, Air Assault on Crete, etc.) but those days are pretty far gone. That said, I think is probably a pretty good pick and I'm looking forward to one of the guys in my group who's a major GMT nut (hi, Mike!) teaching me the system.
  • The games I've played from the nominees aren't "wargames" in the strictest sense of the term. However, I voted for Small World here because I really do enjoy it.

Party Game: Time's Up! Deluxe

  • I know it's considered cool in some circles now to trash R&R Games and Peter Sarrett for releasing a commercial version of the public domain game, Celebrities. I will not join in - because Peter took a good game and made it great by not simply picking an interesting set of names but also by tweaking the deck so that similar names/occupations/backgrounds appear... thus making for sweet, sweet confusion & much fun. Time's Up is "da bomb."
  • The nomination list for this category was as if the collective minds of the Geek had been smoking dope: Two thirds of the list aren't even really party games! Of the ones that actually are "party" games, I was partial to Dixit. (Hint: a game isn't a party game just because it can seat 6-8 players.)

Children's Game: Sorry! Sliders

  • I really like Sorry! Sliders (played it this weekend, in fact) but I've become concerned that the scoring system coupled with the "death corners" means that the game can completely bog down if you're playing defensively.
  • Just because gamer kids from gamer families can play the game does NOT make it a children's game: Aquaretto, Dixit, FITS, and Pack & Stack all spring to mind. I think the hands-down winner should have been Fluch der Mumie (noting that I haven't yet been able to try Das Magische Labyrinth or Zoowaboo.)

Print & Play: Dune Express

  • Commenting on this one is pretty well pointless, as I seldom play Print'n'Play games. I have not played Dune Express.
  • The one I wanted to win was Roll Through The Ages: The Late Bronze Age, which is an excellent PnP expansion for a great dice game.

Innovative: Space Alert

  • A real-time cooperative game with enough soundtracks to keep it replayable that morphs the whole Robo-Rally programmed movement mechanic into a Keystone Kops-like ballet of death on a slow-moving recon spaceship... yep, Space Alert deserves this award.
  • Other notable games that could have won if Space Alert was sucked into a black hole include Pandemic, Powerboats, Roll Through The Ages & Timber Tom. (Tales of the Arabian Nights was innovative 24 years ago, thanks.)

Queen: A Night At The Television Set

Thanks to Chris Lohroff for pointing this out. It's an act of sheer genius, on par with this...

Monday, November 23, 2009

Kid Game Reviews: Animal Upon Animal: The Duel

Animal Upon Animal - The Duel
  • designer: Klaus Miltenberger & Udo Peise
  • publisher: Haba
  • date: 2008
  • BoardGameGeek rank/rating: not ranked/6.04
  • age: 5+
  • # of players: 2
  • print status: in print
  • cost: $12.59 (
I first saw Animal Upon Animal being played at Kublacon (a gaming convention in the San Francisco area) by four very excited adults... and over the next 10 minutes or so, the game (and the exuberant players) attracted a crowd of people. It would have #101 on the Kid Games 100... and if I were to re-do the list today, it would probably be there.

Animal Upon Animal - The Duel is a two-player version of the aforementioned Animal Upon Animal... with some similarities & some significant changes. First, the similarities:
  • cool wooden animal pieces... this time around it's an octopus, a goose, a lioness & a squirrel.
  • they're both stacking games
  • all players have an identical set of pieces to begin the game
  • dice determine how to place the pieces
  • they're made by Haba (ok, that one's painfully obvious)

And the differences:

  • The Duel is a race game - the two players both build in real-time, seeing which one can complete their assignment first.
  • the big alligator is AWOL - you simply use any flat surface (which makes this a great restaurant game)
  • there are two dice (of different sizes) rather than one

Game play is very simple - each player rolls one of the dice. The big die shows what animal has to go on the bottom of the stack & the small die shows which animal goes on the top. Question marks are "wild cards" (so to speak) and matching dice mean you can put the indicated animal at the top or the bottom.

As soon as the objective is clear, players begin building as fast as they can. No animal can touch more than 2 other animals & (just like the original game) they must be on their narrow sides. The first one to finish gets a gold coin (aka "wooden token"). The first player to accumulate 3 gold coins wins the game.

The stacking is trickier than with the original game - the octopus in particular can be difficult to get into position. And, of course, some combos are harder than others... it all depends on the dice.

I think the age number from Haba will work fine on a kid vs. kid level - but more than the original game, this game will reward better fine motor skills (aka "age"). When playing with adults, you could easily handicap it by requiring the older player to get more coins in order to win.

A number of folks over on Boardgamegeek have bought two copies of this to act as "Animal Upon Animal - The Expansion"... which is very cool if not a little pricey. Jeff Goris made some really good suggestions on how to use a single copy to expand the game in a discussion over there that is worth reading.

Do I like The Duel more/better than the original game? No. Have we had fun with it & am I glad I own it? Yes.

Visual Learners

At some point in my education (probably seminary), I was given WAY too much information about learning styles. Some of us are "reading-writing preference learners" (that would be me, btw); other are "tactile" or "kinesthetic learners" (that would be my wife.) A few are "auditory learners" (probably no one in my congregation, he sez grinning) and finally there are the "visual learners." (With this paragraph, I'm reminded of Craig Ferguson's wee "Scottish finger rabbits" - if anyone can give us a link to the clip, I'd love to find it.)

For the visual learners in the audience, here are a couple of websites I've happened upon recently.

Cake Wrecks came up thanks to a conversation at a party on Saturday night (Happy Birthday once again, Lydia - 30 is the new 29!) which started being about spell-checking emails, then morphed into the TV shows ACE OF CAKES and CAKE BOSS... and finally led us to this completely gonzo website/blog. Be warned, some of the humor is a adult-edged... but the just plain WRONG things that are done in the name of cake decorating are absolutely hysterical.

A good place to start is
Cupcake Cakes: Always Wrecktastic. Always. From there, you can move on to the right-hand sidebar menu, which contains a list of fan favorites & "classic" posts, including the pictured Naked Mohawk-Baby Carrot Jockeys, I Want Sprinkles, and The First Censored Cake Wreck. The last of these is wrong on SO many levels that it must be seen to be believed.

I heard about My Parents Were Awesome on NPR a few weeks ago... and instead of being a fount of laughter (for that, go directly to Cake Wrecks; do not pass Go; do not collect $200), it's a sweet trip down memory lane. I find myself looking at the pictures and wondering about the stories behind them.

Basically, the creator of the website just has folks sending pictures (and stories) about their parents when they were young. As he says, "Before the fanny packs and Andrea Bocelli concerts, your parents (and grandparents) were once free-wheeling, fashion-forward, and super awesome." It's nifty stuff.