Sunday, September 27, 2009


Originally uploaded by josephine annika

I just was really struck by this image this morning... it's my prayer today.

Thursday, September 24, 2009

MIA #5: Treasure, Ready, Go! (Auf die Schätze, fertig, los!)

Treasure, Ready, Go! (Auf die Schätze, fertig, los!)
  • designer: Roberto Fraga
  • publisher: Haba
  • date: 2008
  • BoardGameGeek rank/rating: not ranked/7.17
  • age: 5+
  • # of players: 2-4
  • print status: in print
  • cost: $31.49 (

I'm already on record as a huge fan of Jungle Treasure, Roberto Fraga's frenetic mash-up of Time is Money (his own design) & Make'n'Break. (BTW, Jungle Treasure is published by Haba!)

So it comes as no surprise to my faithful readers (and even to my unfaithful ones) that I thoroughly enjoy Treasure, Ready, Go! This is a big box version of the aforementioned Jungle Treasure with some great adaptions to the game to make it more accessible to younger children.

Once again, we are seeking treasure - but this time we're on the island of Mad Roger Sword... and in order to successfully collect his gold coins we must complete a variety of tasks:

  • rebuild the ancient ruins (using six 1-inch square colored blocks)
  • locate important supplies (by rolling a custom die)
  • reorganize the animals (there are four chunky wooden animals included)
  • find matching treasures (8 treasure tokens lay in the middle of the board)
  • recognize animals in disguise (the first player to do so, even if they aren't the active player, receive the card)
  • imitate local wildlife (three different cards have players posing & making animal noises)
  • take a penny/pick it up/then all day/you'll have good luck (there are some cards that are give free gold)

On your turn, another player flips the (roughly) 1 minute timer over and you begin flipping the over-sized cards & completing as many tasks as you can before time runs out. Once you finish a task, you can flip another card or call "Stop!" - of course, if you don't call "Stop!" before the time runs out, you get no treasure (points) for this turn. (Ouch.) Each player gets three turns... and the person with the most treasure at the end of the game wins.

It's amazingly simple to teach - once you explain the timer, you take the first turn & they'll figure most of the game out. Kids love the frenetic activity... but don't count adults out. I've tried this with numerous groups of adults only, always with success.

The rules contain a couple of great variants to tune the game to your taste:

  • In Jungle Treasure, the timer is hidden behind a player's hand. You can do that here - in fact, it's a good balancing mechanic when playing with kids for the adults to use the hidden timer rule.
  • You can also count cards instead of coins (marked on the cards), making it easier to little ones to count their points.

I've also used this with my 4 year old as an experience/imagination game - we each took turns doing 10 cards and just had fun.

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

MIA #6: Die Siedler von Catan Junior

Die Siedler von Catan Junior

  • designer: Klaus Teuber
  • publisher: Kosmos
  • date: 2007
  • BoardGameGeek rank/rating: 3156/6.43
  • age: 6+
  • # of players: 3-4
  • print status: in print
  • cost: $40.95 (FunAgain)
Please, whatever you do, do not confuse this "training wheels for kids" version of The Settlers of Catan with the gorgeous, expensive & empty of substance The Kids of Catan. (Which, btw, also could win an award for "Did We Forget We Were Playing This Game With Children?" Award - tippy wooden pieces on a board with a spinning wheel that is moved every turn?! Klaus, come on!)

But, in the words of Airplane, "That's not important right now." You've come here to read about the game, not about my whining about a different game. (The lines can get kinda blurry sometimes 'round these parts.)

I'm going to assume that you already have some working knowledge of
The Settlers of Catan... if you don't, Shannon Applecline's review on RPGnet is an excellent place to learn more. (I've also got my own Unofficial Guide To Catan, Part 1 & Part 2, but those are written to the less-casual player.)

Here's the basic differences between the original game & the "junior" version:
  • In Settlers, you're a settler. In Junior, you're a pirate.
  • In Junior, there is one additional trading option: you can trade once per turn 1-for-1 with the Marketplace board.
  • In Junior, resources are generated w/one die - and unless you're blocked by the "ghost pirate", you get something every turn.
  • In Junior, you are simply trying to build 7 pirate warehouses - no upgrading to cities & no open points between settlements. (You simply connect them via ships.)

The changes in the game mean that experienced players (well, folks who've played the game once before) can knock out a game in 30 minutes. It's simple enough that a 6 year old can play it - but there's enough game here that adults can enjoy it with kids.

Monday, September 21, 2009

Kid Games You Can Find (Without Much Work)

One of my readers (hi, Paul!) left this comment earlier today on one of the MIA game reviews:
Mark, your lists are great and very helpful,. How about a list of good games that you can actually go to a local store and pick up instead of purchasing them by mail order via Germany or somewhere else? Just a thought.
I decided to respond here with a blog post rather than confine my answer to the comments section... as I think this is a really good question. However, there are a couple of problems with answering it.

#1 - What do you mean by "local store"?

Most folks buy games at their local "big box" store - Wal-Mart, Target, K-Mart, etc. Your average American has easy access to these kinds of stores - but while the prices are good, the selection is pretty slim. You can find some of the better Gamewright card games along with both the good & bad Cranium games for kids (Cariboo & Hullabaloo = good, Squawkbox games = bad). Of course they stock the Hasbro games, which have a few neat items (the newest version of Risk, Sorry! Sliders, the Bop It! toy/game, etc.) but a whole lot more of the "themed versions of classic games" kind of thing.

If you live in a larger city or nearby suburbs, you probably have an upscale toy store in your area. Depending on who runs the store, they are likely to stock Ravensburger, Haba & Selecta games, along with the full Gamewright line. Prices are usually retail (or higher, depending on their overhead), however.

Again, in larger cities or suburbs, you may have access to a store that sells board & card games. Those stores will almost certainly stock Rio Grande Games (who publishes or distributes a number of kid games in addition to the more gamer-oriented heart of their line). They are less likely to stock games you can find in the "big box" stores as they can't compete on price.

With all that said, it's important to note that really good, well-stocked game stores and upscale toy stores with a wide variety of board & card games are a rarity. Here in Fresno (a town of nearly 500,000 people), there are only two game stores and neither of them does a good job of stocking kid games. There are a couple of high-end toy stores that will order Haba games for me, but they don't typically stock them.

#2 - What's the problem with online shopping/mail order?

I understand the whole "buy local/keep the tax revenue local" emphasis - but if there isn't anyone local who stocks that item, it's not like I was going to make the purchase here in the first place.

But maybe that's not your problem with what you call "mail order." Maybe you're worrying since so many of these games have foreign-sounding names that the only way to get them is from across the Atlantic.

First, all of the Haba & Selecta games are multi-lingual. They do not have text on the pieces or board and they come with rulebooks printed in multiple languages - thankfully for those of us with English as our native tongue, it's always in there. Ravensburger games printed with an English name have English rules & components included.

Second, I don't order very much directly from Germany any longer... while it was once quite lucrative (thanks to a strong dollar & the overseas ability to not pay the VAT) to buy games from Germany, that situation has changed. As well, many of the really good German games are now re-published in English, thanks to Rio Grande, Mayfair & a host of other companies.

I do order from a number of different online retailers here in the U.S.
  • is owned by Haba USA and has an excellent stock of Haba products (toys as well as games)... they also have some great clearance deals if you keep your eyes peeled. (NOTE: I have an agreement with Haba USA where they provide me with games to review - possible conflict of interest disclosure.)
  • does a great job of stocking older & odd kid games, but they can sometimes be a bit pricey... they do have great clearance sales if you get on their mailing list.
  • has historically had a good selection of classy kid games
  • also has a good selection
  • has the best customer service in the business as well as a good selection of kid games

I have done business multiple times with all of these folks & recommend them without reservation.

So, you asked about a list...

I combed through the Kid Games 100 to come up with a list of games that are (a) in print, and (b) available for purchase at your local store (with the caveat that YOUR local store may not carry them.) I've divided the list into four groups (by type of store) and added some notes to some of the games.

Game Stores
  • Au Backe!/By Golly - By Golly is the new version of this great little memory game published by Rio Grande
  • Chateau Roquefort - the most gamer-y of the Kid Games 100, also published by Rio Grande
  • Chicken Cha Cha Cha - gorgeous memory game published by Rio Grande
  • Gulo Gulo - classic family dexterity game published by Rio Grande
  • Gumball Rally - an American design published by Z-Man Games

Upscale Toy Stores

  • Cat & Mouse - a Ravensburger "square box" game.
  • Chuck-It Chicken - another Ravensburger "square box" game.
  • Enchanted Forest - this is an older Ravensburger game - it's seen print under a variey of themes (including Wizard of Oz!)
  • Giro Galoppo - a great Selecta game that was imported by Rio Grande.
  • Hop Hop Hurray! - Ravensburger game that's as big a hit with adults as with kids.
  • Jungle Treasure - Haba medium box game of speed & dexterity.
  • Klondike - Haba big box game of dexterity & bluffing.
  • Pirates on the High Seas - Ravensburger game with a HUGE box - and incredible components.
  • Sherlock - now published by Playroom - great little memory card game.
  • Smuggler's Island - Haba big box "delivery" game.
  • Strong Stuff - the Goldsieber version is OOP, but this nifty dexterity game has been republished by Haba and is shipping to the U.S. as I type
  • The Black Pirate - Haba big box game - lots of fun.
  • The Ladybug's Costume Party - classic Selecta cooperative game imported by Rio Grande
  • Turbulento - another Selecta game... may be tougher to find.
  • Twiddle Turtle - Haba long box with amazing wooden turtles.
  • Viva Topo - Selecta game that should be easiest to find.
Book Stores
  • Corsaro is a German game that was reprinted in Klutz Books' The 15 Greatest Board Games in the World... again, a full disclosure moment: I was one of the consultants on this book. (I don't actually see any more money from it but I do like to pump the sales as much as possible. You can read more about my experiences with the book in my post Klutz & Konsulting.)


  • Balloon Lagoon - There's been a number of editions of this one by Cranium - all of them have a lot of early elementary age goodness in 'em.
  • Duck Duck Bruce - My only frustration with this game is the lower quality cards - but the gameplay itself is delightful. I think I paid $5 at Target for this Gamewright reprint of a an older German card game.
  • Hula Hippos - Another Gamewright reprint of a German game (this time from Haba).
  • Hullabaloo - Twister for the preschool set - I'd shoot for the non-DVD version. Published by Cranium.
  • Operation Rescue Kit - a nice re-imagining of the classic game from Hasbro - comes in a plastic case & with a timer/scorekeeping mini-computer, which makes the game MUCH more fun.
  • Scene-It Disney - two editions exist - both are good.
  • Thing-a-ma-bots - another Gamewright card game.
  • Yahtzee Junior - again, lots of editions of this dice game. Great introductory game from Hasbro. (We have Toy Story, but the edition doesn't really matter - choose one your kid enjoys!)
  • Zingo! - Bingo for the younger set... ThinkFun did a nice job on this one.

Final Note

In the process of researching this post, I found a new blog about board games that speaks to Paul's question: The Game Aisle by Kim Vandenbroucke.

Sunday, September 20, 2009

MIA #7: The Suitcase Detectives (Kofferdetektive)

The Suitcase Detectives (Kofferdetektive)
  • designer: Guido Hoffman
  • publisher: Haba
  • date: 2008
  • BoardGameGeek rank/rating: not ranked/6.83
  • age: 5+
  • # of players: 2-4
  • print status: in print
  • cost: $23.39 (
We "serious gamers" spend an inordinate amount of time carping about things like oversized game boxes. (Yes, you may laugh & point & make fun of us if you wish.) That's not a problem for The Suitcase Detectives - in the words of Comic Book Guy: "Best. Game. Box. Ever."

You see, the box is not simply the right-sized container for the game components... it IS a game component. The box has a thin pull-out tray, covered by a semi-transparent window inside the main compartment of the box/suitcase. The suitcase/box also closes to hide the window - we'll get to "why" in just a minute. The other components include a bag with a variety of silhouette pieces, 4 small card decks w/the silhouette shapes, a sand timer and a score board & markers.

The players are detectives, trying to spot what's been stolen out of this mysterious suitcase (aka "game box"). In turn, each player gets to be "the thief" and remove 2 (or possibly more or less, if you're playing with the variant rules in the rulebook) of the silhouette shapes from the tray & hide them in the provided bag. The suitcase is shaken & then opened, allowing the detective players to peer through the semi-transparent window & attempt to figure out which items are gone.

Of course, as the pieces lay across each other, it can be very difficult to figure out what is & isn't there. The detective players use their individual card decks to secretly register their guesses. When time runs out, the pieces are pulled out of the bag and each correct guess is worth one point on the scoring track.

Depending on the number of players, each person gets to be "Percy the Pilferer" a certain number of times & then the game is over. (Yes, that's his name in the rules - I think if I was a master thief and required to have an alliterative nickname, I'd go with something like Harry the Heistmaster or Sammy the Safecracker. "Percy the Pilferer" sounds like Neville Longbottom's equivalent number at Slytherin.) The player with the most points (correct identifications) wins.

There's some really nice flexibility built into the game. You can make it easier by placing less objects in the game (there are 13 different ones & you normally take 5 out of the game)... or you can increase the difficulty by playing with more objects. You can also vary the number of objects removed.

The Suitcase Detectives has gone over well with the early elementary set (1st-3rd grades)... and, with the number of objects reduced, actually works pretty well with my 4 year old.

Thursday, September 17, 2009

It's Not Mine Shaft #12 That Has Me Checking Ticket Prices To Essen

I've been told that Essen, Germany, is not a tourist hot spot. (When the Zollverein Coal Mine Industrial Complex is the first place to visit listed in your Wikipedia article & the Bauhaus architecture of a mine shaft is considered the symbol of your city, you probably aren't banking on high levels of vacationers plopping down Euros.)

But once a year in late October (the 22nd-25th this year), the
Die Internationalen Spieltage SPIEL takes place at the Messe Essen (a huge convention center) and the largest collection of board/card game players & collectors happens... 44,000 square meters of games! (BTW, the name is roughly translated "The International Game Days"... but most of the boardgaming world just calls it "Spiel" - German for 'game' - or "Essen.")

Even though I've never been able to attend (and that isn't changing this year), I'd love to be one of the 150,000 or so folks who get to preview games... and buy them! Unlike the New York Toy Fair here in the U.S., this is a family/gamer-oriented event (as opposed to being focused on retailers). The closest I get each year is the adult version of what I used to do to the Sears Wish Book as a kid - page through the "catalog" and circle the pictures.

The "catalog" doesn't actually exist, of course - but thanks to BGN (
Board Game News), you can peruse English translations of information about many of the new games about to be released. What follows is my virtual edition of my Essen Wish Book Wish List!
  • Ra: The Dice Game - I've already played this (it was released before Essen) but I'd like a copy of my own. Takes the very interesting Egyptian-themed auction game (Ra) & turns it into a very interesting Egyptian-themed dice game.
  • Abandon Ship - a Knizia push-your-luck that BGN describes as a mash-up between Colossal Arena & Royal Turf. Since those are two of my favorite Knizia games, I need to give this "rats deserting sinking ships" game a try. (BTW, Dr. Reiner Knizia is a well-known game designer, for those of you reading this without extensive gaming background.)
  • The Adventurers - if nothing else, the theme (looting an ancient temple a la Indiana Jones) and the bits (the pieces look great!) warrant at least one play.
  • Macao - Stefan Feld has made some very interesting designs for Alea... so this dice-based resource management game is a must play.
  • BasketBoss - Corne Van Moorsel's StreetSoccer is a splendid small backgammon-ish soccer board game that manages to get the FEEL of soccer right - so I'm hoping that BasketBoss will do the same for basketball (or at least basketball management.)
  • Dungeon Lords - this sounds like Space Alert/Galaxy Trucker in a fantasy setting... only you're the bad guys, not the good guys.
  • African Park - the theme (building zoos) is fun... and I like that they borrowed the whole "can't put these guys together because one of 'em will get eaten" mechanic from Ark.
  • Maus au Chocolat - looks like a family game about mice (and other disgusting creatures) working in a confectioners shop. What's not to like?
  • Agricola: Die Moorbauern - I haven't played Agricola in a while, but I like the game enough to have wooden wheat & veggies... so I'll definitely end up with the expansion.
  • A Brief History of the World - it makes me sad that the Ragnor Brothers are finally getting around to shrinking their monster game, History of the World, just after I found a reasonably priced copy. (Sigh.) Still, I love this game system enough that I'll probably end up with both of them in my collection.
  • the Sylla expansion in the Ystari Box - I think Sylla may be one of the best of the 'interlocking usage' games out there, particularly because it evokes the theme while keeping the decisions tight & difficult. The expansion (adding a new Great Work, 2 new characters & 2 new disasters) will add some variety & open up some new strategies.

Will I buy all of these? Of course not. But I want to play all of them - and I'll happy try others as well!

BTW, somebody will ask "where's the Haba releases?" Most of them were released earlier this year to make them eligible for the Spiel des Jahres. There may be others, but BGN hasn't reported on them... yet.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Fred, Lionel & Erwin: The "Royal Wedding" Syndrome

I want to add a warning to the beginning of this post... more than usual for me, this is a William Faulkneresque stream of consciousness kind of mash-up. You may not catch all the references (that's OK) but try and follow the thread of my idea(s). If you can't, it's not your fault but mine.

First, you need to watch this video.

The Secret of the Ceiling Dance by bluebird1111

For those of you who are children of the 80's - no, Lionel Ritchie was not the first performer to be "Dancin' on the Ceiling."

No offense to Mr. "Running With the Night" (a good Lionel song, btw, as opposed to the utter inanity of "Say You, Say Me"), but Fred's a lot more graceful than you are.

This amazing effect was accomplished by building a set inside a huge wheel - then gluing or nailing down every piece of furniture & decoration on the set so that it wouldn't move when it was rotated. Pretty impressive stuff, eh?!

Second, you need to read this definition from
The Very Best of British:
Momentarily - As you come into land at an American airport and the announcement says that you will be landing momentarily, look around to see if anyone is sniggering. That will be the Brits! I never did figure out why they say this. Momentarily to us means that something will only happen for an instant - a very short space of time. So if the plane lands momentarily will there be enough time for anyone to get off? Weird!
In a similar vein, I once told Collin (my 4 year old son) that I needed to break him of a bad habit that he had. Tears welled up in his eyes as he said, "Dad, don't break me." Now you're properly prepared for the rest of this post.

I was studying & reading yesterday for my message/talk/sermon (pick your favorite - "long-winded diatribe" is NOT one of the choices) and began searching for an
Erwin McManus quote. Thanks to the joys of Googling, I not only managed to uncover some great quotes, I also found a group of individuals who are very angry with Erwin and have spend an amazing amount of time writing about it.

Now, I'm a part of the online community of boardgame players/collectors, so I've seen obsessive behavior before - the "Eurosnoot vs Ameritrash" argument (don't ask - it's just as stupid as it sounds) chewed up great swaths of bandwidth & emotional energy while generating more heat than light. The Erwin haters, my friends, are some pretty obsessed folks... they'd fit nicely into a discussion of whether Go or Chess is the "deeper" game.

I'm not going to get into a detailed analysis of their problems with Erwin (a pastor & writer who I admire deeply) - that's not really the point today. I will suggest, however, that there are two possible syndromes that explain this behavior:
  1. The "Royal Wedding" Syndrome - lots of folks want their Christianity and/or religion tied up in neat little packages with no rough edges and no sense of mystery. They want everything nailed or glued down so that no matter what happens, they know the rules. These are the folks who deeply love conferences with printed notebooks filled with outlines & sermons with subjects like "7 Easy Steps to a Great Marriage." These same people are flustered (and maybe even a bit angry) at God for not specifically speaking to every potential hot button issue in Scriptures... and since He didn't, they'll do it for Him and pull out proof texts to bolster their point. Erwin, with his artist/philosopher background, is never going to speak their language.
  2. The "British English/American English" Syndrome - speaking of language, the fact that Erwin & the folks at his church (Mosaic) are willing to use terminology not often heard in church to describe Biblical truths is like waving a red cape in front of a bull. Erwin says: "The greatest enemy to the movement of Jesus Christ is Christianity." What I hear is "Christianity as a religious institution has stifled & attempted to channel the power of Jesus Christ in order to reach worldly objectives. Erwin wants to send people back to power & grace & love of Jesus Christ." What they hear is "Erwin wants people to not be Christians but 'spiritual people' who believe anything & everything."
Combine those two impulses with Erwin's love of confounding expectations with his speaking/teaching & you've got the recipe for obsessive website building & the same lovely behavior that Stephen faced in Acts 7:57-58 (NLT):
Then they put their hands over their ears and began shouting. They rushed at him and dragged him out of the city and began to stone him.
I'm not suggesting that anyone is headed to Erwin's house for a drive-by stoning... just that the same kind of "stick my fingers in my ears & attack" tendency seems to be present here.

Now, I'm not finished yet. It's one thing when folks have "Royal Wedding" Syndrome over an author. It's another thing when they do it with their lives.

I'm convinced that many of us (and I include myself here) want for everything in our lives to be nailed down solid... so that when life sends us spinning, we can dance on the ceiling without a care. Nothing will be broken, nothing will change... and when our life rights itself, when it returns to "normal", everything will be exactly where we put it.

But an unexpected death or being laid off or your daughter getting pregnant or the onset of depression or a hundred other things quickly end that illusion. When the room of your life begins to turn, nothing stays still. Things crash to the floor and you're reduced to hanging on for dear life. No magical dancing through a wonderland secured by roofing nails & wood glue for you.

As I've been mulling this over, I realized that I'm trusting the adhesives & the hardware to hold my life together - my plans, my nest egg, my house, my possessions, my job - rather than trusting Jesus with all of that stuff... and with me. I want those things to get locked in place because I think that I can hold onto them when trouble starts.

I'm not suggesting that you live in your car or pull a St. Francis & strip yourself naked. I am suggesting that trusting in any of this stuff is foolish - because it doesn't have the strength to support you when life gets rough.

The challenge is (to quote the Southern-fried rock band, 38 Special) to "hold on loosely." And we can do that because Jesus promises to "hold on tightly" to us.
Keep your lives free from the love of money and be content with what you have, because God has said, "Never will I leave you; never will I forsake you."
Take a look at that passage (Hebrews 13:5-6) in the Amplified Version... talk about making the point clear!
He [God] Himself has said, I will not in any way fail you nor give you up nor leave you without support. [I will] not, [I will] not, [I will] not in any degree leave you helpless nor forsake nor let [you] down (relax My hold on you)! [Assuredly not!] So we take comfort and are encouraged and confidently and boldly say, The Lord is my Helper; I will not be seized with alarm [I will not fear or dread or be terrified].
One last question for thought: what if the stuff in our lives getting moved around and/or broken is a good thing? Ask Dave Zener about getting fired 55+ years ago... or offer to buy me a milkshake and hear the story of how closing the church I planted started the deepest spiritual growth in my life. Ah, but those are stories for another time...

Tuesday, September 08, 2009

Crackpipe Remote - Fall 2009 Preview

Pretty much every time I post one of these, I get grief from some of you about how much TV I watch. If you feel the need to scold, use the comments.

Otherwise, here's what looks nifty to me this fall on network TV:

  • Heroes - Yes, I was disappointed by about 1/2 of Season 3... but the parts that worked reminded me of the Golden Age of Heroes (which was, sadly, only 3 years ago). Here's hoping that they've got their mojo back - the previews look really good.
  • Lie To Me - I caught up with this one over the summer thanks to Hulu & Netflix... it's kind of like the doctor from "House" (socially abrasive expert) wandered into a crime drama. I don't know that I'll watch it live, but it makes fine Hulu viewing when I'm dealing with insomnia.
  • Chuck - The pleading worked... Chuck will return this spring. Whoo-hoo! Viva BuyMoria!


  • Lost - It won't start until spring, but that doesn't keep me from mentioning the most amazing show on television... and this is the final season.


  • Flash Forward - Looks like Lost, except the island is earth. Could be fascinating or worthless.
  • Survivor: Samoa - It's like high school with less food, bigger personalities & demented physical challenges. I'm addicted.


  • The Amazing Race - the last two seasons have been really good... here's hoping for 3 in a row.
  • NFL football - Is it weird how much I love watching a game I have no real desire to ever play personally?

And a couple of things that are making me cranky when I look at the TV schedule:

  • Jay Leno in prime time? Really? Can you smell the stink of desperation in the network offices that came up with this "let's save $ & deny his services to another network" manuvere?
  • I'm still ticked they blew up "Pushing Daisies"... and instead ABC has something called "Cougar Town" on the air. Blech.

MIA #8: Ghost Hunters (Geisterjager)

Ghost Hunters (Geisterjager)
  • designer: Andreas, Lukas & Ulei Frei
  • publisher: Haba
  • date: 2007
  • BoardGameGeek rank/rating: not ranked/6.92
  • age: 5+
  • # of players: 3-5
  • print status: in print
  • cost: $35.99 (
Haba does "mildy creepy" as well as any game company I've seen - and Ghost Hunters is an excellent example of how this works. The atmospheric backdrop to the scoring board (which is a haunted castle, complete with a full moon silouetting bats flying by) is offset by the adorable ghost pieces - evidently in this haunted castle, the ghosts need illumination (a candle), a key (what? they can't float through locked doors?!) and a refreshing beverage (it looks like lemonade). So kids get a little bit of scary with enough comforting things to make it accessible even to the most jittery child in your house. (For comparison, Fantasy Flight Games has a version of Fury of Dracula with real menace... and in the late 80's/early 90's, Games Workshop published nearly every game with an abundance of skulls. Seriously - it was as if the Headhunter from Disneyland's "Jungle Cruise" was following you around & decorating.)

But back to the game itself - the players here are ghost hunters (hence the name), trying to identify which ghosts are haunting the castle. They do this by watching as one of the ghosts (under the control of one of the players) flits past the windows. When one of the hunters thinks they've recognized the ghost, they call for a halt to the haunting. All of the hunters then use their "hunt wheels" to secretly make a guess at which ghost they've seen. (There are 12 ghosts in the game - 8 which you must identify correctly & 4 more which you can simply guess as "haven't seen these".)

The answers are revealed and the hunters advance along the track: 2 spots if they're the only correct hunter & 1 spot if more than one hunter is right. If none of the hunters are correct, the player moving the ghost moves forward.

The ingenious construction of the game is fascinating: the scoreboard actually hides the pieces when you're not playing... and the castle is a hollow stand-up piece that fits into the side of the box. The ghost player manipulates the ghost in question with a magnet. (It's also nice if the ghost player makes spooky noises... but that's not really a design feature of the game.)

The game comes with two sets of ghosts to vary the difficulty of the game. The "easy" set is easy enough that my 4 year old & 8 year old can play together.

Some Thoughts About Legalism From People Who Are Smarter Than I Am

The attraction of legalism is that, despite all its complexity, it's mindless. It requires little or no personal engagement. It's sheer mechanics, simple arithmetic, no more difficult than cranking a hoist or measuring a length of board. You just follow orders. You match the parts to the diagram & apply pressure. It need draw nothing from your heart, your mind, your strength, your soul. It's like paint-by-numbers: it requires no artistry, no imagination, no discipline, just dumb, methodical obedience.

And the attraction of legalism is its inherent rewards. Legalism feels good, in a perverse sort of way. It strokes our egos, fills us with the pleasure of achievement, knowing we spelled all the words correctly, and in such a nice, tidy script to boot. And it's even better if we accomplish this where others have failed. It's like winning a race: it wouldn't mean half as much - indeed, it wouldn't mean anything - if our triumph didn't imply others' losses. The secret impetus behind legalism is its competitiveness. The point is not just to win: it's to beat everyone else. Read "beat" in that last line however you wish.

Mark Buchanan, The Rest of God

The curious thing about legalism is that you might look at a legalist and a person walking in grace and at times not be able to tell them apart. They could very well be doing the same exact things. The difference lies not on the outside but on the inside, in the realm of motivation. Why is he or she doing it? A person is a legalist, therefore, not necessarily because of what they do or do not do, but because of why they do or don’t do it.

Neil Anderson, Breaking the Bondage of Legalism

And they tell us we can save ourselves, but that isn’t very good news/Because if I could have, I would have saved myself/I wouldn’t need you like I do...
Rick Elias, "I Wouldn't Need You" from the album


I want to hate what God hates and love what God loves. And this I know beyond the shadow of a doubt: God hates legalism as much as he hates alcoholism.... Legalism is a more dangerous disease than alcoholism because it doesn’t look like one.

  • Alcoholism makes men fail; legalism helps them succeed in the world.
  • Alcoholism makes men depend on the bottle; legalism makes them self-sufficient, depending on no one.
  • Alcoholism destroys moral resolve; legalism gives it strength.
  • Alcoholics don’t feel welcome in church; legalists love to hear their morality extolled in church.

John Piper, Brothers, We Are Not Professionals

MIA #9: Butterfingers Cube (Kubus Fidibus)

Butterfingers Cube (Kubus Fidibus)
  • designer: uncredited
  • publisher: Haba
  • date: 2005
  • BoardGameGeek rank/rating: not ranked/6.33
  • age: 6+
  • # of players: 2-5
  • print status: OOP
  • cost: $21.99 (
For all the Harry Potter fans out there in the audience, I give you Kubus Fidibus (which, frankly, is a lot more magical sounding name than "Butterfingers Cube.") This tricky little dexterity game is another bit of oddball genius from the folks at Haba. (I need to check this, but the Geek says this design is "uncredited" - which is weird, as Haba is usually really good about crediting designers.)

The magical cube, shot through with holes shaped like the magical items it is meant to contain, sits on a frame. In turn, players roll the die & then rotate the cube so that the side indicated by the die is facing up. Carefully they place/drop the appropriate item (pointy hat, magic ring, wand, spell book) into the cube & place it back on the frame.

There are two special sides to the die (and the magic cube!): the stars is a "wild card" side, in which you can drop any object, and the square indicates a side without any holes (so you don't have to drop an object into the cube.)

If (well, when) objects fall out of the cube, the player who causes this magical catastrophe has to keep them as evidence of his sqibb-ish tendencies. Thankfully, the "no more than 2" rule from Animal Upon Animal is found in this game as well... meaning that the competition is not unduly long or harsh to novice players. (For those who don't know the rule, it simply means that you never have to take more than 2 pieces, regardless of how many fall out of the cube.)

When a roll is made that can't be fulfilled from the existing pile of magic objects, the game is over. The player who has taken the least fallen items is the winner.

The trickiest part of the game is the one-handed turning of the magic cube - it's all too easy to get your hand in a very uncomfortable position trying to get the cube flipped around without sending an avalanche of magical stuff to the table. This, of course, is part of the fun.

Like all dexterity games, the fine motor skills required to play at some level of skill don't occur until kids are 6+. Adults can also "handicap" themselves by agreeing to take "no more than 3 items" when they have a fall... or by spotting a younger player an item or two. Adults can also beg the kids they are playing with for mercy, as some adults should not play dexterity games - as they have none!

Monday, September 07, 2009

Three Great "Frankly, Scarlett" Songs

I was listening to NPR's "Talk of the Nation" the other day & heard Kim Masters talk about her dad's involvement in WW2 & the inspiration he took from the movie "Gunga Din" to deal with a particular situation:
As my father’s unit moved inland on their bicycles, the man in the lead position was shot through the head. The troops took cover and then the captain told my father to approach the village ahead. He didn’t want my father to take a stealth approach but to walk down the open road. With a sinking feeling, my father understood that his mission was to draw German fire so the captain could see where it was coming from. Realizing that there was no time to do more careful reconnaissance, my father accepted what he saw as a likely death sentence.

“All that training going to waste,” he lamented. Then he remembered having seen Gunga Din in which Cary Grant, surrounded by the enemy, says coolly, “You are all under arrest.” That inspired my father as he strode down the center of the road, shouting in German: “Surrender, all of you! Come out! You are completely surrounded and don’t have a chance!”

For a time all was silent. Then a German soldier popped up from behind a parapet and fired. My father dropped to his knee and fired back. Each missed the other. My father’s gun jammed. The German dove for cover. My father went flat on his stomach to clear his gun. As he prepared to shoot again he heard a noise and there, behind him, his entire troop was charging, bayonets fixed. The soldier in the lead shot two enemy soldiers concealed in a ditch to the left of the road, each with a belt-fed German machine gun.

(from an excellent article by Kim Masters entitled "My Father, The Inglourious Basterd" - go read the whole thing!)

Here's the movie scene that inspired my first break-up... and gave this post a title:

My first "girlfriend" (who wasn't really a girlfriend in the "kissy-kissy-suck face" kind of way but actually a girl which I had a wicked crush on who enjoyed my presence & friendship) loved "Gone With The Wind"... in fact, she's the person who introduced it to me. (She also introduced me to the musical "Evita" & the Beatles' "White album".) Watching that scene finally inspired me to walk away from this one-way relationship... though not with the snarky anger of the songs I want to highlight.

Looking back some 30+ years (wow, that was a LONG time ago), I realize that I wanted something from this young lady that she wasn't interested in giving... and that was her right. My interest in her didn't mandate her response. In my puppy-dog crush, I missed out on continuing a really great friendship.

Wow, this post has taken a turn I didn't expect it to... hmmm. So, back to the humorous break-up songs!
  1. "Woman, Don't You Know" by Petra (on the album COME & JOIN US) - Yes, it's from the Dark Ages of CCM... but it's basically a "I'm not going to sleep with you because I found Jesus" song - and there just aren't very many of those. You can get a quick snippet from Amazon's MP3 site for the album - it's track #8. Thanks to A Guide To Petra, you can find the lyrics, too.
  2. "That's Ex-Doormat To You" by This Train (on the album YOU'RE SOAKING IN IT) - Mark Robertson, the lead guy behind This Train, is one of the Cool Kids of the CCM scene: he was part of Allies, The Altar Boys, Rich Mullins' Ragamuffin Band & The Stand. (I didn't realize he was even a part of making the industrial/metal rock opera "Under Midnight" - the Internet is a wonderful thing.) Anyway, the "cowpunkabilly" band This Train recorded some quirky stuff - but none with this much pure vitriol: "I realized I'm no punching bag, and I know you hate that/So now you'll have to do without, or get yourself a cat." I can't find an online source to listen to the song, but you can get a feel for This Train's music on their MySpace Music page (which also hints that the band may be recording again!) The lyrics can be found here.
  3. "Il'll Take You Back" by Brad Paisley (on the album TIME WELL WASTED) - There's something about country music that lends itself to dissing your ex-girlfriend... and no one does it better than Brad Paisley. I've embedded Brad's appearance on Letterman singing the song below this list. (If you want to see the lyrics, there's a fan video with them on YouTube.) Of course, it doesn't hurt that the boy has some serious chops on the guitar.

Thursday, September 03, 2009

When Did It Start?

So, 70 years ago today Britain & France declared war on Nazi Germany (as required by their treaties with Poland). Germany had crossed the Polish border on September 1st, giving the world a first glimpse of what would come to be called "blitzkrieg" (lightning war).

Traditionally, Sept. 1, 1939 is marked as the "first day of World War 2"... but that ignores the Spanish Civil War, the Anschluss in Austria & the annexation of the Sudetenland. We must also consider that the Japanese invaded China in 1931. (Sadly, too many Americans have narrow "U.S. First" blinders and see the war as beginning on December 7, 1941 with the attack on Pearl Harbor.)

So when did it start? While that may be an important question for history tests, it blithely assumes that we can assign simple cause & effect rules to the decisions of nations & world leaders. I do not believe we can circle a date in red marker & declare it "the beginning point of a cataclysm."

In the same way, I think it's important for those of us who struggle with addictive issues to remember that the battle to stay "clean" (whether not taking the next drink or shoveling the next bit of food into our mouths or clicking on the XXX link) doesn't have a particular starting point. The struggle to avoid a shopping addiction isn't the moment you hand the sales clerk your credit card... it begins much earlier, when you fondle the merchandise on the shelf, or when you get in your car to drive to the mall, or when you begin dreaming about how good it will feel to have something new in a shopping bag. In my case, the battle with porn didn't begin with the pictures or the erotic text - it started in the moments where I felt powerless & tired & unappreciated.

It doesn't even have to be an addiction - for example, the decision to rent a hotel room by the hour & have an adulterous affair doesn't start with handing the hotel desk clerk a wad of cash.

Where does your battle start? Whatever just popped into your head, think again. Maybe it starts a whole lot earlier.

MIA #10: Panda, Gorilla & Co.: Das Spiel

Panda, Gorilla & Co.: Das Spiel
  • designer: Peter Wichmann
  • publisher: Schmidt Spiele
  • date: 2003
  • BoardGameGeek rank/rating: not ranked/5.32
  • age: 8+
  • # of players: 2-4
  • print status: OOP
  • cost: $43.95 (
I'm a sucker for zoo games: I'm a huge fan of Michael Schacht's Zooloretto & Aquaretto (and I'm probably way too proud that Michael published a variant for Aquaretto created by my then-7-year-old son, Braeden on his website.) I think O Zoo le Mio is great fun (and actually works with kids, though they have real trouble with correctly judging the values of the various auctions.) Frank's Zoo is The Great Dalmuti on steroids (and, IMHO, a better game)... though I like the German name (Zoff im Zoo = "Trouble in the Zoo") better than the American one.

So Panda, Gorilla & Co. was a natural fit for me: a game about filling a zoo with animals with a mechanic based on the Carcassonne game system. But after I purchased it through an Ebay auction, I read the comments on BGG, which were, shall we say, not positive. So it was with great trepidation that I opened the box & got ready to play.

What I found was a game that we've had a lot of fun with as a family... though not a game that I'd likely pull out at a gathering of hardcore gamers. If you've played Carcassonne (draw & lay a tile; optionally place one marker/person on the board to attempt to claim victory points), this will seem very familiar.

Each player has three sets of "suggestion" markers: 3 large, 3 medium & 3 small. (Yes, it's beginning to sound like a odd triplets-oriented version of Goldilocks & the Three Bears.) After they place a tile into the zoo (matching roads & colors of grass), they may place one of those suggestions on the tile. When an area is completed (surrounded by pathways), animals are placed in the area based on the suggestions: large animals take up 6 squares & are worth 5 points; medium animals take up 4 squares & are worth 3 points; small animals take up 2 spaces & are worth 1 point. Suggestions are resolved in order of size - biggest to smallest.

Similar to Carcassonne, you can't place same-sized suggestions into an area - but you can place different-sized suggestions into the same area... and you can hook two areas together that both contain same-sized suggestions.

The game continues until the board is filled. Late in the game, it can become difficult to match tiles, so the flip side of each tile contains a lake that can be placed (and potentially covered over by later plays.)

Panda, Gorilla & Co. was originally published by the Polish game/puzzle company, Trefl, back in 2003... but only appeared in the German market in 2007. There have been some changes in the rules - but we haven't been able to figure out what those changes are/were. Anyone knowing how this information can be obtained, contact me!

My four year old likes the "choosing animals" part of the game - the tiles are nicely illustrated & there's a large variety of species. My 8 year old actually does pretty well at the game - there are less strategic decisions than Carcassonne but it still involves actual thinking & spatial skills.

Finally, while I haven't played The Kids of Carcassonne, I have read through the rules because both games are aimed at the "junior version of a classic" market. From that simple perusal, I'm happy with Panda, Gorilla & Co. There's just more interesting things going on in the zoo!