Friday, December 31, 2010

Sticky Teams: Selected Quotes (Chapter Three)

Today, I'm re-reading the chapter on "Guarding the Gate" subtitled "No Guts, No Unity."
  • Worst of all, once a toxic board member or a troublesome staff member has a seat on the bus, it can take an act of God to get them off.
  • The best time to remove a problem player is before they have a place on the team.
  • Intentionally keeping the pastor out of the selection process (or worse, putting someone on the board who is at personal or philosophical odds with the pastor) is like saddling a coach with a general manager & assistant coaches who don't buy into his game plan. It simply doesn't work.
  • If you don't have the guts to speak up on the front end, you don't have the right to complain on the back end. So shut up - and speak up next time.
  • I'm a strong advocate of selecting board & staff members who are leadership oriented. They don't have to be aggressive, charge-the-hill leaders. But they do need the ability to think in terms of leading the congregation where God wants it to go. And that mindset is very different from worrying about every minority opinion or asking for an opinion poll on the front end of every significant decision.
  • Don't forget, when the elders of Israel used an opinion poll to determine which way to go, they ended up wasting forty years in the desert.
  • I told the board that as far as I was concerned, the "theys" no longer existed. I'd happily listen to comments & critiques from people with real names & faces. But nebulous theys who didn't want their identity known & hypothetical theys we couldn't identify would no longer have any sway.
  • Our primary job is to listen to, discern, & carry out God's will, not the congregation's.
  • Good undershepherds never forget that they work for the Chief Shepherd, not the sheep.
  • Be esp. leery of those who are angry & argumentative for all the right things, particularly the single-issue crusader. I call these people pit bulls for Jesus... [The apostle Paul] simply said to keep contentious people out of leadership. Here's why. Pit bulls bite. It's what they do. If you allow on on your board or ministry staff, don't be shocked when at some point of disagreement they turn around & bite you - and bite hard. It's what pit bulls do.
  • The most common breakdown I see in terms of relational fit happens when we allow superior Bible knowledge or spiritual zeal to trump an obvious & serious lack of social skills or a bristly personality.
  • If the best person available is not the right person for the job, it's far better to have a long-term vacancy than a long-term cancer on the team - even if everyone else is hounding me to fill the position right now.
  • Most pastors aren't very good at interviewing strangers. We tend to like people & want to help them.
  • Character is always more important than giftedness.

Like what you're reading? Pick up a copy from Amazon. (I am not an Amazon associate or a shill for the Buy Larry Osborne A New Car Foundation... I just think the book is that good.)

Thursday, December 30, 2010

Five & Dime 2009: Recap

I realized this morning that as I got ready to post about the 2010 edition of The Five & Dime Report on BGG that I hadn't posted the recap for last year. So, here it is.

I first began keeping track of the Five & Dime lists back in 1999... and here it is, 2010. Meaning I've been doing this for eleven (12) years. Either I'm very thorough or verging on OCD. (You choose.)

Here's the all the links for the 2009 Five & Dime reports.
And here's the links for graphic 'over time' comparisons of the top games, which I call Wide Angle Lens:

Start sending those 2010 reports in! (Here's the link to the details over on BGG: The Five & Dime Report - 2010 Edition.)

Sticky Teams: Selected Quotes (Chapter Two)

The chapter is entitled "Why Boards Go Bad." (For those of you in SBC life, you can substitute "Why Deacons Go Bad" or perhaps "Why Church Councils Go Bad." It's not exactly the same thing, but it's close enough for horseshoes & hand grenades.)

  • Location & environment matters; it's never neutral. It always works for or against us. More important, it sends a strong message about what kind of behavior is expected & appropriate.
  • While admittedly there are some individuals we appreciate less the more time we spend with them, the dynamic of a group is different. Groups predictably draw closer with increased interaction & time.
  • Our rotating board did more harm than good. Imagine a corporation that changed one-third of its leaders every ten to fifteen meetings... When, by definition, thirty-three percent of the board lacked a corporate memory, it was hard to build on past decisions.
  • Last week I talked to a pastor who had 25 members on his board. It's no wonder they move at the speed of an arthritic snail.
  • The larger the size of a board, the greater the temptation for board members to think of themselves as representing a particular constituency.

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Sticky Teams: Selected Quotes (Chapter One)

Back in late October, I had the privilege to attend the Sticky Teams conference at North Coast Church (down in Vista, CA)... and as you can probably tell from the name, the conference focused around the concepts laid out in Larry Osborne's book, Sticky Teams: Keeping Your Leadership Team & Staff on the Same Page.

I bought my copy of the book at the conference & promptly devoured it - it's chockful of amazing insight into church leadership, staff dynamics & following God as a pastor. Usually I'm the guy who reads a book once & then puts it on the shelf for reference... but I'm in the process less than 2 months later of reading through it again, which ought to tell you something about the impact it's having on me.

Rather than write a full review (short version: it's great! go buy it!), I'm going to offer some quotes that make a lot of sense to me, ministry-wise and/or challenged me in how I'm leading NewLife (the church I pastor):
  • It finally dawned on me that we were never going to change the world out there if we couldn't solve the conflicts in here.
  • Unity that insists on uniformity isn't unity at all. It's a cheap counterfeit.
  • Let's admit it. Our Christian hot buttons constantly change. One decade's battleground is another decade's yawn.
  • Most church fights aren't over theology or even ministry goals; they're over priorities & methodology.
As you can probably guess, my intention is for this to be the first in a continuing series of posts as I re-read the book.

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

The Unofficial Guide To Catan, Part 3

I wrote Part 1 and Part 2 of my unofficial guide to all things Catan back in 2007... and a lot has changed since then. So, consider this an unofficial update.

The Settlers of Catan

The 4th American edition (pictured here) is now pretty much all you can find - that's not a bad thing, mind you, but those with pre-2007 sets will want to hunt down the adaptor kit from Mayfair Games.

There's also a $150 all-wood 15th anniversary edition if you feel like blowing your hard-earned gaming money on something pretty.

The last "big box" expansion for Catan, Traders & Barbarians, has been published in English. As I don't own a copy myself, I can only comment on the description of the expansion - it sounds like they've adapted some of the earlier small expansions (Fishermen, Caravan) and some of the Das Buch scenarios (Barbarians) into a larger format. I think that's a great idea... but since I've got a German set, I've got to figure out how to get a German copy of it.

Catan: Histories

I wrote about Settlers of the Stone Age in my earlier post... we played it again earlier this year and it held up better than I thought it would. It's not a "play once a week" kind of game (due to the set board) but it's really got some interesting variations on the basic Catan mechanics that work well together.

I had also mentioned Struggle for Rome (but hadn't played it). I've since remedied that & found it to be enjoyable but with seemingly less options than Settlers of the Stone Age. There is an official online variant from the designer of Catan, Klaus Teuber, that I'd like to try.

The most recent addition to this line is Settlers of America: Trails to Rails... which takes some ideas from Settlers of the Stone Age & some from the Das Buch train scenario & some from more typical train game roots and smushes them together into an interesting but MUCH too long game of westward expansion. (This is very possibly the first Catan product which I've had NO interest in personally owning.)

BTW, each of these games are independent of the base game - they come with all the pieces and equipment needed to play them.

Catan: Geographies

So far, there's only one stand-alone game in the Geographies series: Germany. I have not played or seen it.

There are a number of Geographies poster maps... but they have only been available in the US as prizes in convention contests. Honestly, I think this isn't a terribly wise policy - hopefully Mayfair will begin making these available for purchase.

The Rivals For Catan

Klaus Teuber has been working long & hard on a reboot of the Settlers Card Game... and it was just released this fall. The Rivals For Catan looks to be easier to learn (you can add complexity in steps), quicker to play, and - since it is being released in the U.S. & Europe at the same time - less likely to get caught in the odd packaging issues that plagued the earlier game.

I haven't played it yet - but that's just a matter of time. When I do, I'll post a review here on the blog.

Catan Dice Game

The dice game is now available in the U.S. in both a basic & a deluxe edition (shown here). As much as I like Catan, there are better dice games.

The Muppets: Pöpcørn

OK, so I'm not actually writing new stuff for the blog yet... but this is delightfully oddball & Muppet-ish.

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

5 Last Minute Stocking Stuffers

They're games... of course.
  • Archaeology: The Card Game ($10) - I was underwhelmed with this set-collecting card game the first time I tried it... but multiple plays have won me over. There's enough luck to blame if things go wrong & enough interesting tactical decisions to claim credit for if you win.
  • Duck Duck Bruce ($10) - This is a reprint of a card game (Kleine Fische) that is VERY similar to Knizia's Circus Flohcati - but was released a year EARLIER. (Hmmm...) I think it's better than Knizia's game, btw. (Read my whole review!)
  • Famiglia ($10) - Two player card game of mob recruiting that has a bunch of interesting decisions... the more we play, the closer the scores get.
  • Hey Waiter! ($15) - Surprising how much game play the designer (go, Anthony!) can get out of a deck with only 4 types of cards... we haven't tried the partnership version yet (the preferred "gamer" way to play according to the buzz on BGG) but have had a lot of fun just playing the basic game.
  • Mummy's Treasure ($12) - A weird but enjoyable cross between Yahtzee & Tetris... the dice-rolling is Yahtzee-esque but the scoring uses Tetris-like pieces. (Read my whole review then check out the variant my son & I created for the game!)

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

The Wrong Shade of Green for Christmas

I've known Eric Michael Bryant for a very long time... since he was a teenager, in fact. He was the one of those "good kids" in the church youth group that my wife grew up in at Shady Oaks Baptist Church. (I was a youth intern there during my seminary days... and it's the church Shari & I were married in.)

When I hosted my first DiscipleNow weekend (that's Southern Baptist for "in-town intensive spiritual retreat for youth"), he was my pick to come & lead my junior high guys. We flew him in from Waco (where he was attending Baylor University - sic 'em, Bears!) into the wilds of Arkansas and I watched him make a big impact on a squirrely bunch of 7th & 8th grade boys. (This is also the time when he informed Shari & I that since he was a college guy, "now, when I kiss a girl, I have to mean it." A veritable pearl of wisdom.)

Thanks to a common home church & the magic of snail mail, we kept up with Eric in dribs & drabs as he got married to Debbie & they headed to Seattle to help plant a church. And then, we lost touch somewhere in the mid-90s.

Fast forward to 2004, when I attended my first Origins Experience - a very cool church conference put on by Mosaic down in Los Angeles. At the end of the first night, they had one of their Navigators (Mosaicspeak for "lead pastor") give a few announcements. I was sitting way in the back so I was a little surprised when they introduced him as "Eric Bryant"... and out walked this young guy with a "Deal or No Deal" Howie Mandel haircut. After the session was over, I pushed my way through the crowd to confirm my suspicions - and gave Eric a monster bear hug.

We got to talk & catch up a bit over those two days - I met his kids and heard a little bit about how he'd got from Seattle to L.A... but it wasn't until I read his book, peppermint filled pinatas (which has since been reprinted as Not Like Me with some additional material) that I found out the whole story. (If you're interested, the book is great - here's my review of it.)

And over the last six years, we've enjoyed seeing each other on various occasions (Mosaic events, conferences, his family's visit to Fresno, etc.) and keeping in touch via text & email. He's been an encourager & a friend... a guy who has grown & matured far beyond the promise of his youth & yet still has the childlike warmth & humor that he had as a teenager.

So now, after 12 years at Mosaic, he's moving to Austin, TX to serve in a new ministry position - and I couldn't be more excited for him & his family. Both he & Debbie will be closer to their folks... and Austin is the perfect blend of old school Texas & vibrant cutting edge culture that fits Eric to a "T." (Read more about the move on Eric's blog: We Are Moving To Austin!)

At the same time, I'm jealous. That's right: I'm turning a distinctly non-Christmas shade of green over the thought of the Bryant clan heading back toward family, toward more familiar territory, toward an exciting new opportunity...

In my most "pity-party-ish" moments, I mix into this pea-colored emotional soup the local Lutheran pastor & his move back to his family in Northern California (after 27 years of community-changing service here in Easton - way to go, Paul!) and my sister-in-law going on staff with Gideons International in, of all places, Nashville, TN - the town where Shari & I spent more than half of our marriage and where many close friends (and now a decent-sized chunk of her family) reside.

It's ugly inside my heart... as if I'd painted it the wrong shade of green for Christmas time. I wallow in self-pity, marinate in bitterness, breathe in envy as if it were oxygen. "Why them, God? Why do they get to 'go home' while Shari & I live in 'the far country'? Why do we get shuttled off to the side - into this small rural/suburban town - while Eric gets to serve at this cutting edge church? You obviously stopped caring about us... well, about me!"

And then... when I'm still before Jesus - the One who loved me so much that He came as a baby & died for my sins - the peace of God overwhelms me. He cared so much about us that He sent us here - to Easton, to NewLife Community Church - in order to be cared for & loved on & ministered to in ways we would have never imagined. When our oldest son (Braeden) was in the hospital, the church rallied around us. When Shari was in the worst of her emotional struggles, our small group kept us fed physically & spiritually. When we chose to homeschool our boys, God provided a network of like-minded folks to walk with us.

Moreover, He loved the folks in Easton so much that He matched us up. As much as I want to throw a spiritual hissy fit over not getting to pastor a "big" church, I hear His voice ringing in my ears: "I called you to this place, these people, in this time... on purpose." My gifts & talents are made "for such a time as this" - and such a place as this.

After that - after hearing so clearly from God - it's much easier to celebrate the good stuff that is happening in the lives of others... and to celebrate the wonderful stuff that is happening in my own.

And my heart feels like Jesus strung up Christmas lights & repainted the walls a deeper, richer color - the color of growth & eternity.

A much better shade of green.

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

BGN: State of the (Excellent) Site

I'm a huge fan of Boardgamenews... an excellent site for current news & reviews on board & card games. I've even written some of those reviews. (And the editor, W. Eric Martin, is an extremely nice guy.) I'd give you the URL, but there's been a little problem...

...due to computer/server difficulties, the site has been crashed since the end of November. If you want to know the whole story, check out W. Eric Martin's blog post, The Past and Future of Boardgame News.
My host is useless, and I am equally useless, lacking the technical skills to figure out what might be the problem in the site design. Worse, I can't log in to the site due to a lack of memory (duh), so I can't attempt to change the site design to strip even more things out to at least make it possible to post something to tell people why I can't post anything. A modern dilemma to be sure. A human in prehistoric times would respond to this situation by throwing the computer against the wall. That same impulse lives in me, too.
If you just want the highlights, here they are:
  • changed website to add cool features
  • cool features ate up too much memory
  • upgraded server (and all the difficulties that entails)
  • memory issues ate my dingo baby
  • crash bang boom
  • and, THE GOOD NEWS: "That solution is largely in place, and Boardgame News will return sometime in January 2011, if not sooner. More details on this solution soon."

Long live BGN! (Enjoy your Christmas holiday, you recalcitrant pile of 1's and 0's.)

Wednesday, December 08, 2010

Heroscape "Arena of Doom"

I'll try to get better pictures of this Heroscape board this next week (since Braeden & Canann & I are getting ready for an epic 1000 pt army battle on it) but I still wanted to show it off. This is my self-created "Arena of Doom" that I built for Crazy Squirrel Game Store's grand opening celebration this last Saturday.

Yes, I'm the dumpy guy with a goattee & a silly grin.

This is a better picture of the board... that's my arm coming in from the right. (Yes, my mother taught me it's not polite to point.)

We managed three games on the board... and all of them were a lot of fun!

UPDATE: Joe Aguayo (who played in the 2nd game) sent me this picture he took which gives you an even better look at the board.

How In The Heck Did I End Up Here? (part seven)

This is, for now, the long-overdue penultimate installment in the story of my ministry life. (Thank you to Jennifer from Crazy Squirrel for encouraging me to finish this series!) If you want to pull a Paul Harvey & get "the rest... of the story," here's an index of the earlier articles.

The church @ hickory hollow closed in late September of 2002... and it felt a little bit like my ministry had come to a thundering close. I'd burned the ships when I went into church planting (I gave away almost all of my youth ministry resources & severed most of my speaking/writing connections) - and even if I hadn't, my heart wasn't in working with teenagers anymore.

There was a senior pastor opening at an innovative church in the Cool Springs area that Shari & I visited in the weeks following the close of tc@hh - I even got to talk to a couple of search team members. In the end, they "went a different direction" and I was left to post my resume online & activate my seminary placement file...

...and sit. Looking back now, I have no idea what I did with most of October 2002. I didn't work & the church was DOA. I'm guessing I spent time with Shari & Braeden and otherwise did a lot of moping. It was a very, very long "lost weekend" with no actual alcohol involved.

By early November, I started looking for a job to help pay the bills... and ended up back at the JC Penney Call Center. I worked third shift through the Christmas holiday season, which was miserable on a number of levels:
  • the weird schedule meant less time with my family
  • the atmosphere at the call center was much less friendly
And the search for a new church for us to attend was not going well. While we had a number of good experiences with innovative churches in the Nashville area, none of them felt right. (The church search process was eye-opening, though - taking our 4-5 month old son into a new environment every week & leaving him with strangers was nerve-wracking. It gave us a renewed appreciation of the need for quality kid ministry in the church.)

In January of 2003, I built a resume website (which would be important later) and started using my Christmas gifts from my wife & sister: a copy of John Eldredge's Wild at Heart and the Wild at Heart workbook. Yes, we can argue if his "wild God" theology is as Biblical as he thinks it is (but not right now!)... but that study profoundly affected my life. Finding an author who struggled with the question of what it means to be a man of God without veering into weepy tween-girl-slumber-party emotionalism OR chest-thumping Iron John eat-something-raw ranting was a revelation - and this was a guy who quoted Scripture, C.S. Lewis & George MacDonald... and even used contemporary films to drive home spiritual truths. It would be an understatement to say that Wild at Heart changed not only my relationship to my wife & son but also to the way I approach church leadership.

My career with JC Penney ended on a sour note: they decided to get my attention to see if I wanted to train for the next level by not actually giving me any hours for two weeks. No note; no call from a supervisor; nada; zilch; nothing. Since it was early January, I simply assumed that I was getting no hours because of the post-Christmas slump. So, I found a new job (more on that in a minute) and went to tell my boss - who was surprised. It was at that point she finally decided to tell me that they wanted to train me for the next level. Sigh.

My new job was a job through a temp agency, working at a video fulfillment company. In my 5 months there, I learned that working a production line feels a lot like that "I Love Lucy" episode at the chocolate factory. (Our main business was duplicating & sleeving videos for Tae-Bo and Gaither Homecoming, though I spent most of the last couple of months trying to sort out the Hot Licks video music lessons account that we took over from another company.) My boss there was great about letting me take time off for interviews in the search process.

Another church popped up on the radar in late January 2003 - a church plant just a few years older than tc@hh whose founding pastor had left for the mission field. They were close to Cleveland, OH (in fact, within sight of Cedar Point Amusement Park) which would have kept me smack dab in the middle of some very good gaming friends. Their vision - to reach their community "by any means necessary" - was inspiring. It sounded perfect.

Of course, the search team was worried about what had happened at tc@hh, but hesitated to ask me directly so they wouldn't spoil the budding relationship. Instead, they asked the associational director to give me a call. I poured out my heart to this guy... and what I got in return was a blessing from God. He proceeded to tell me about his experience in helping church plants - and that in his opinion, tc@hh was woefully underfunded & it was a miracle that we had lasted as long as we had.

It wasn't until much later that Shari filled out the rest of the story - after the church in Ohio had said they'd put their search process on hold & we were headed to Fresno. She had been praying about the Ohio opportunity and felt a strong "no" from God - that it wasn't going to happen. But, because she didn't want to discourage me, she didn't say anything. (In retrospect, a very wise decision. Without it, I probably wouldn't have bothered talking to the associational director... or experienced the encouragement of the process.)

It was also in late January 2003 that we found our church... January 25th, to be precise. It was exactly 5 years since we'd started tc@hh and the Oakley's (a major part of tc@hh) had been inviting us visit their church, Fellowship Bible, for a number of weeks.

What Steve & Shane forgot was that the January 25th service was the last service that Fellowship was having in a school building before occupying their new facility in Brentwood... and that it was also their fifth anniversary. As we heard these growing group of people celebrate what God had done, as they had a special recognition for all the folks who'd done set-up & tear-down for the past five years, as they looked forward to the next chapter in the history of the church... Shari & I sat with tears running down our faces & big questions in our hearts.
  • God, how cruel are you to bring us here to today, to rub our face in our failure?
  • Why do they get to have the success & we had to watch our vision circle the drain?
  • With all of that, why do I feel so drawn to this church even though I'm ticked off & angry?
Steve & Shane were incredibly apologetic... and we took the next week off (another celebration was going to be a bit much) - but Shari & I both felt like we were supposed to go back. And we did.

For the next six months, Fellowship Bible became our church home. Jeff & Lloyd's teaching style had a big impact on mine (my weekly "So What?" comes directly from them) and Shari got very involved in some incredible spiritual growth opportunities for women.
During that same period, I did a 3 month consulting gig with the Tennessee Baptist Convention, helping them connect with innovative Southern Baptist churches. It didn't do much to further my job hunt (which was a bit of surprise) but it did help me get a better picture of what church planting really looked like (and how difficult it was).

There were a couple of other churches who expressed interest during this period - I even got as far as committee phone interview with one church in El Paso, TX, that was slowly declining. You know you've got "vision" issues when I suggested that correcting this decline meant some serious re-thinking of how their neighborhood had changed & what it would take to reach them... and after a long silence, one of the committee members replied, "Yep, we need a revival." Sigh. Needless to say, I didn't pursue things with that particular church.

To be continued...

Tuesday, December 07, 2010

#84: Say Anything

Say Anything
  • designer: Dominic Crapuchettes & Satish Pillalamarri
  • publisher: North Star Games
  • date: 2008
  • BoardGameGeek rank/rating: 356/7.08
  • position on my top 100 in 2005: did not appear
  • age: 13+
  • # of players: 3-8
  • print status: in print
  • cost: $17.75 (Game Surplus)
Here's what I wrote not too long after it was released... which still holds true.

Proving once again that my superpower is Getting Random Strangers To Give Me Things (though, frankly, there are not enough Random Strangers and not enough Things Given), I just received a pre-release copy of Northstar Games
Say Anything.

The game itself is very simple - take the rotating Judge concept from Apples to Apples, add in the answer submission system (tiny dry-erase boards & pens) from Wits & Wagers, and top it off with a kinder betting system, also from Wits & Wagers. Players take turns being the Judge, who draws a question card & picks one of the five questions to read. The rest of the players then race to scribble out answers that they think will entice/entertain or otherwise engage the Judge.
Example from one of our games the other night - my wife asked us: "Aliens have just landed on earth? What do you do?" Some of the answers were (from memory, so I'm not sure I'm completely accurate here):
  • "Hide!" (this was my answer)
  • "Run away"
  • "Kill 'em"
  • "Feed them something" (this was the answer that Shari picked)
After all the answers are in (the Judge gets to decide if answers are duplicates - you can't have those - and who got their answer down first), the Judge secretly picks the answer they like using the Select-o-Matic 5000, which sounds a lot more sophisticated than it is. (It's a spinner that doesn't spin very well - which is how it's supposed to work.) Then the rest of the players quickly lay their bets (each has two betting chips) on the answer or answers they think the Judge will pick.

With the chips played, the Judge reveals their answer & points are scored - the system is designed to reward players who guess correctly without creating chances for runaway victories... in fact, the entire game is designed for maximum party enjoyment rather than maximum gamerness. (Yes, I know "gamerness" is not a word - but most of you get what I'm talking about.)

I've had the opportunity to play the game twice now - once with 5 players and once with 7 players. The five player game was fun - enough so that we promptly roped 2 more people into the game & played with seven, which was a LOT more fun. I think the sweet spot for the game is probably 6-8 players.
Here's what I like about the game:
  • plays quickly - a huge plus for party games
  • nobody feels dumb - you can approach how to answer the questions in whatever form you wish: you can try to please the Judge, you can try to be the class clown & make with the silliness, you can simply try & entertain yourself...
  • the score doesn't matter much - sure, if you're playing a 2 hour game of El Grande, you want to know the exact score at the end, but the draw here is not the winner(s) celebrating, it's the journey getting there
  • the rules - they are incredibly easy to explain
  • it's got the good parts of Apples to Apples with added creativity - the free-form questions means the game doesn't devolve into the same kinds of jokes & picks (as A2A has a tendency to do)
  • it simplifies the Wits & Wagers scoring - I love Wits & Wagers... but the betting system is tough for non-gamers to wrap their heads around. Say Anything uses the same kind of system in a way that's friendlier to non-gamers.
A warning: some of the questions on the cards could cause certain crowds to head in a PG-13/R-rated direction with their answers... while that's a selling point for some folks, I know a number of folks who read this blog work with youth & adults in faith-based settings. None of the questions are smutty (as in some other party games) but you'll want to be aware of this possibility. Please don't misunderstand me - I really, really enjoy the game; I'm just aware of the potential for problems in these kind of arenas.

A final word: I saw the folks who played the game with us a couple of days later - and they were still talking about it. That's the kind of reaction you want from a party game! I see Say Anything getting a lot more play around here, esp. with Bible study groups & small parties.

Monday, December 06, 2010

#85: Pizza Box Football

Pizza Box Football

  • designer: Scott Smith & Erik Smith
  • publisher: On the Line Game Company
  • date: 2005
  • BoardGameGeek rank/rating: 1117/6.40
  • position on my top 100 in 2005: did not appear
  • age: 12+
  • # of players: 2
  • print status: in print
  • cost: $19.50 (Game Surplus)
Let's keep this short & simple... if you don't like dice and/or football, you should not pick up Pizza Box Football. 'Cuz that's pretty much all there is to it - choose your play, roll the dice, figure out what happens based on some pretty simple charts, have fun.

But for me, a big football fan who doesn't particularly like sports simulation games, this is a delight. (Note: there is a distinct difference between sports games & sports simulations - the first group includes things like Strand Cup, Streetsoccer & En Garde, where the game does a good job of getting the "feel" of the sport right without attempting to replicate the details of the sport. The second group attempts to simulate the sport in game terms - an excellent example of this is Pursue the Pennant/Dynasty League Baseball.*) If you really want a football simulation, go play the latest Madden video game.

I'd strongly recommend picking up one of the expansion team sets - this gives the game a wider variety of plays to choose from (from 3 to 6) and a full roster of NFL teams with their individual quirks. Also keep an eye out for the yearly Super Bowl match-up team cards that they put out free of charge online... it's been fun to play the game alongside the real game - and sometimes MUCH more interesting.

A final word: I think I've only won two or three games of this, out of the nineteen times I've played it. Doesn't change my love for it one bit.

* I actually enjoy Dynasty League Baseball, but only with someone who knows the game really well so we don't get bogged down in the rules.

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Game Review: Memoir '44 Winter Wars

Memoir '44 – Winter Wars
  • Designer: Richard Borg
  • Publisher: Days of Wonder
  • Players: 2
  • Times played: Six, against three different opponents
  • Price: $24.99 (pre-order from CoolStuff)
I am not an impartial reviewer when it comes to Memoir '44 – in fact, I'm not sure how anyone who hadn't played the game before could adequately review the newest expansion of this WWII Command & Colors game system. (If you need my curriculum vitae, you can read the opening paragraphs of my review of Memoir '44: Breakthrough from May of 2010.)

In short, I'm a huge fan of the game.
That said, even the long-time fans of Memoir '44 want to know whether the Winter Wars expansion – which focuses on the Battle of the Bulge (Unternehmen "Wacht am Rhein" to the German army) – is worth their hard-earned dollars...

In order to do that, I'll borrow the format from my previous Memoir '44 review and answer a number of questions, hopefully giving you enough information and opinion to make a good decision regarding Winter Wars.

Do I need to own a bunch of other expansions to play this expansion?

There are ten new scenarios included with this expansion:

  • Six standard scenarios that require only a single base game and Winter Wars to play... though the Winter/Desert Board will make them look a great deal nicer. (An aside: the Winter/Desert Board is possibly the least important expansion offered in the Memoir '44 system – it's purely cosmetic. Still, I find myself really enjoying that the board looks right and am glad I picked it up.)
  • Four Breakthrough scenarios that require a single base game, the Breakthrough maps expansion or the blank Breakthrough map from the Campaign Bag, a copy of the Eastern Front expansion (for more needed winter terrain) and, of course, Winter Wars.
What do I get?

The first thing you notice when you open the box is the chunk of terrain (80 double-sided tiles!) and the required badges and markers needed to play the scenarios in the booklet.
Then you realize that there's a lot of cards in there:
  • The 80-card Breakthrough command deck to be used specifically for Breakthrough scenarios (much like the Overlord specific deck found in that expansion)
  • The 20-card Winter Combat deck (which is similar to the urban combat deck that game with the Sword of Stalingrad battle map)
  • Various terrain, troop, action & special weapons assets rule cards
Are the scenarios balanced?

We played three of the regular scenarios and three of the Breakthrough scenarios and had only one complete blowout – which can be blamed mostly on the dice hating my opponent. The rest of the scenarios were nail-biters, usually won by 1 or 2 medals.

Another card deck? Really?

Actually, there are two more card decks.. Let me explain why I think both are wonderful additions to the game.
  • The Breakthrough deck changes both the card mix and adds a new type of Section order card: "On the Move." Those cards (Recon, Prove & Attack) allow you to do your normal move/attack for the stated number of units while also allowing you to move 1-3 other units anywhere on the board but without attacking. With the longer boards, this fluidity of movement allows you to bring units into action (or retreat them to safety) while still maintaining your offensive... a welcome addition to the Breakthrough method of playing Memoir '44 that I and the other players liked a great deal.
  • The Winter Combat cards are additional cards that are played alongside your Command card (or in response to events on the board) that add some interesting twists to the game. You receive two to start the game and receive a new one every time you play a Recon card. (This mechanism for bringing these special effect cards into the game means that players with lots of "slower" cards get Winter Command cards as a way to level the playing field while making the cards more rare for players with "better" hands.)
A Few Stray Thoughts
  • The "Reduced Visibility" rules are brutal... and yet do a great job of reflecting the reality on the ground in December of 1944. When these are in effect (in most of the scenarios here), unit symbols rolled do NOT count unless you are in Close Assault, requiring you to engage at close quarters in order achieve maximum fire power.
  • The Breakthrough deck cards have the same back as the original Command deck, allowing you to seed them into regular scenarios. (I think this is unwise, as it would allow too much freedom of movement on the smaller boards, but your mileage may vary.)
  • The rulebook does an excellent job of clearly defining the various objective-based victory conditions – and adding some we haven't seen before. (Sudden Death victory, anyone?!)
  • I haven't had the opportunity to try the Breakthrough deck with the scenarios from the original Breakthrough expansion – I'm looking forward to it, though!
My recommendation

While the Breakthrough expansion is aimed at the hardcore Memoir '44 player and a lion's share of the cards included in Winter Wars are specifically for Breakthrough scenarios, I think Winter Wars has an appeal beyond the hardcore fanbase. Since more than half of the included scenarios can be played with the base game and this expansion, players less invested in the system can still get a lot of bang for their buck with the scads of new terrain and Winter Combat cards.

At the same time, as a long-time Memoir '44 fan, I've been most excited about the Breakthrough deck and think it ratchets up my high opinion of the Breakthrough maps expansion even more.

Once again, Richard Borg (and Days of Wonder) have managed to create an expansion that adds tactical and strategic depth without adding undue complexity. I should not be surprised – this is a game system that has been lovingly and carefully expanded. Thanks, guys!

This review appeared originally on BGN & is republished w/the kind permission of W. Eric Martin, my long-suffering editor.

Thursday, November 04, 2010

Heroscape: It's Been a Great Six Years

Here's what I wrote back in September of 2004, not long after Frank "Moo" Branham dropped me a line & told me to go see what Hasbro had put out to the mass market.
There's a lot more here than just pretty bits - but it's still easy to get lost in the "shock & awe" of the massive brick of terrain and the great figures. Under girding that, however, is two solid game systems (basic & master), fast gameplay, a perfect sense of playing to it's audience (throwing together LOTR, the Matrix, Viking hordes, dragons, the Terminator films), and the ability to create a wide variety of interesting scenarios.

This is what Duel of Ages or Epic Duels want to be when they grow up.
Heroscape was all that & more... and now it's dead.

Well, as Mark Twain once (purportedly) said, "The reports of my death are greatly exaggerated." Because, unless Hasbro/Wizards of the Coast has manufactured the terrain out of some kind of special plastic that they can detonate by remote control and/or they've hired the Taelord & the Minions of Utgar to swoop down on game rooms 'round the world and steal back the stacks of miniatures, we can still play this wonderful game. (BTW, this would be the most effective use of Taelord & the Minions. In other news, Taelord & the Minions would make a great rock band name.)

Don't get me wrong - I'm sad to see it go. I'll be getting one last box (D&D Heroscape Wave 3) in a couple of weeks & then the new stuff will stop rolling in. My oldest son & I had a wish for figures that needed to be created (pirates! cowboys & Indians on horseback! gelatinous cube! biker gangs! civil war squads! more scary bugs for Aquilla!) that will only see the light of day now as fan-created mods.

Still, it was an amazing run:
  • 4 Master box sets
  • 13 waves of small figures
  • 3 boxes of large figures
  • 4 boxes of special terrain

I even got to have a small part in it - I was one of the playtesters for "hot lava death" and the surrounding figure waves. (That was fun - although the NDA [non-disclosure agreement] Hasbro required myself & my game group to sign is literally the ONLY legal document I've ever signed for playtesting.)

Thanks to Craig, Rob, Stephen & a host of other folks for creating & shepherding this wonderful game along. You can read more about them and about the "death" of Heroscape in an excellent post by Truth on his site,

Anyone want to play? Braeden & I are trying to figure out how to build a swamp map with two Marro Hives!

Sunday, October 31, 2010

Halloween Blogging

Some thoughts on Halloween from three (well, at least two) interesting sources:

Church Marketing Sucks - Trick or Treat: What Message Does Your Church Send on Halloween?

Consider the church that’s leery of zombies. Instead of a Halloween party, they have a harvest party with costumes and candy and smiling jack-o-lanterns. But it’s not Halloween—no sir! That’d be evil.

These churches are only fooling themselves. Everybody else knows it’s a Halloween party. You can’t decry something as evil but then co-opt it for your own message. That’d be like Mark Driscoll launching a yoga ministry. Instead you need to be sneakier and take over a pagan holiday, but that’s another story.

Stuff Christians Like - Feeling Bad You Didn't Blog About Halloween

Good n’ Plenty. (Worst candy ever. It’s like the reverse of candy. It’s candy punishment.)

Mark Jackson (yep, me... w/my pastor hat on!) - Costumes

I'm guessing I was 11 or 12 years old when I decided to put on my heaviest winter coat, a pair of swimming goggle with large individual eye pieces, a knit cap & my for-real camping/hiking backpack (stuffed with newspaper)... to be a climber. It actually was a pretty good looking costume, if I don't say so myself.

The only problem is where I was wearing these layers of heat-trapping stuff - in southern California on a particularly warm Halloween night. It was like being trapped in a sweat factory of my own making.

Follow the links to read all that we (yes, we) had to say.

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Game Mini-Reviews: Be Not Afraid & Necromancer Island

Be Not Afraid (expansion for Small World)
  • designer: Philippe Keyaerts
  • publisher: Days of Wonder
  • date: 2010
  • BoardGameGeek rank/rating: not ranked/8.19
  • age: 8+
  • # of players: 2-5
  • print status: in print
  • cost: $20.00 (Days of Wonder)
  • designer: Philippe Keyaerts
  • publisher: Days of Wonder
  • date: 2010
  • BoardGameGeek rank/rating: not ranked/8.33
  • age: 8+
  • # of players: 3-6
  • print status: in print (while supplies last)
  • cost: free w/Small World product purchase (Days of Wonder)
Reviewing expansions is hard. By definition, if you liked the base game (in this case, the off-beat fantasy conquest game, Small World), you're inclined to enjoy the variety that a well-made expansion gives the game you already love. By the same token, if you didn't like the base game, you probably won't bother with the expansions.

That's why you have to be cautious about the ratings for expansions on Boardgamegeek... the folks who are rating these "add-on"s are a self-selected group of fans whose numbers will naturally tend to be higher than average.

Which brings me to my job today - as a fan of Small World (and 3 of the previous 4 expansions - guess which one I less enthralled with!), I need to help the rest of you fans out there decide whether Be Not Afraid and Necromancer Island are worth your hard-earned gaming dollars. (I'm choosing to review them together since they're being released at the same time, btw.)

Be Not Afraid

Be Not Afraid is similar to the previous race/power expansions (Cursed! & Grand Dames) in offering new races:
  • Barbarians (lots of them, but they can't reinforce)
  • Homunculus (who grow stronger every time they are ignored)
  • Leprechauns (and their pots o'gold... though no Lucky Charms, for those of you needing a snack break during the game)
  • Pixies (lots of them, but they're easy to squish)
  • Pygmies (every time you knock 'em down, they have the potential to multiple... it's like fighting a Pandemic virus!)

And new powers:

  • Barricade (you're rewarded for having a small kingdom)
  • Catapult (much like the French & their cows - Monty Python reference alert! - you can heave some of your troops to distant lands)
  • Corrupt (it costs your opponents gold to conquer you)
  • Imperial (you're rewarded for having a big kingdom)
  • Mercenary (spend money to make it easier to conquer regions, thanks to Dial-a-Merc)

The printing/art/components are of the same high quality we've grown to expect from Days of Wonder... and they match the base game & expansions perfectly. If you'd like to see the complete rules for the expansion, they are available here.

The other item in Be Not Afraid is a counter tray for all of the expansion races... which is a welcome addition, especially since they curved the slots, making it easier to find, remove & replace counters than the base game counter tray with straight-sided slots. There's room for the extra race & power boards - and even space for the Ghosts from the Necromancer Island expansion!

Finally, as yet another indication of the high quality of Days of Wonder customer service, there was a printing screw-up with the Catapult token for Be Not Afraid - it, well, wasn't in the box. So, DoW had a new punchboard printed up with the missing token... and added five Leader tokens for the races in the new expansion as well! It will be available with the expansion when you purchase it from your local retailer or directly from Days of Wonder.

Necromancer Island

This "scenario" for Small World consists of a new set of race tokens (Ghosts), a castle on an island (which ends up in the middle of the lake), and "The Well of Souls" (where dead combatants go for their after party... well, not really.) And, of course, the rules.

One player takes on the role of the Necromancer - his job is to get all of his Ghosts onto the board, profiting from the steady stream of dead combatants that the other players send to the Well of Souls. Every four tokens in the Well allows the Necromancer to add a Ghost in his castle... which he then uses to spread out across the center of the island.

The Necromancer player doesn't recruit like the rest of the players - instead, he draws 6 powers before the game begins, choosing one to start with and then buying the others with gold he obtains when his Ghosts conquer territory.

This is not, however, just another "us against him" game - if the Necromancer is unable to place all of his Ghosts by the end of the final turn, the player with the most gold wins!

The nature of the expansion requires at least 3 players - though it does do a nice job of adding an extra player without imbalancing the game. (You can now play with 6 players!)

One thing is unclear in the rules (but clarified by Eric Hautemont at Dow): the Necromancer does not start with any gold. (Our first playings saw the evil wizard winning in the next to last round, but the intial 5 gold bump made it much easier for that to happen.)

I really like the wrinkle this adds to the game - as it doesn't unnecessarily complicate the system while still giving Small World a different feel. I'm hoping they'll do more of this kind of scenario additions to the game!


I think the tandem purchase of these two expansions makes for a great deal - I like the new races (esp. the Barbarians & the Leprechauns), the Barricade & Corrupt powers make some of the smaller/weaker races more viable in the right situation, and Necromancer Island expands the number of players & the style of play.

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Kid Game Review: Moo & Baa

Moo & Baa

  • designer: Thomas Liesching
  • publisher: Haba
  • date: 2009
  • BoardGameGeek rank/rating: not ranked/6.00
  • age: 3+
  • # of players: 2-4
  • print status: in print
  • cost: $17.99 (Maukilo)
The shortest way to describe Moo & Baa is to simply say that it's Go Away, Monster! with some actual game added. (Not to bag on Go Away, Monster!, mind you - we played a LOT of it when our boys were young.) But the folks at Haba have managed to take the simple "draw from the bag & fill your board" mechanic and tweak it in ways that make for a more enjoyable gaming experience for those over the age of 4.

For some reason, the farmers (that would be the players of the game) have managed to mix up their animals: cows, sheep and - because this is not your average farming community - frogs. There's even a few wild animals (beware the free range frog!) thrown in for good measure. The first player to retrieve his set-up for a very odd joke ("A cow, a sheep & a frog walk into a bar...") wins the game.

The animals are placed in three cloth bags (conveniently made from different prints):
  • with younger players, all the animals of the same type go in a bag
  • with older players (4+), the animals are mixed & placed randomly in the bags

Each player has 2 of each animal in their color... and then there are 3 blue-colored "wild" animals which don't belong to any player.

In turn, players draw an animal from the bag - if it is their animal, they keep it. If not, it goes back in the bag it came from. (With very young children, you could simply have them give the animal to the correct player to promote color matching & speed up the game.) Blue animals always return to the bag. The game is quick - someone usually wins in about 10 minutes.

That's it... my 9 year old son described it as "kind of like Bingo" which I guess I can see - but both he & my 5 year old play it gladly. Add to that the enjoyment my wife & I have playing it with our boys and you've got yourselves a really nice family game.

Two final notes:

  • Because the entire game focuses around drawing from the bags, there is a possibility of cheating (peeking in the bag when you're taking your animal). We've used this game to deal with those kinds of issues with our younger son.
  • I've brainstormed (but not tested) a variant for the game in which you would be allowed to put animals that are not your color back in ANY bag - thus making the memory component tougher & allowing for some tactical moves to "hide" an opponents piece and/or "clear" out a bag so you can find your piece.

Addendum: my mini-review of Go Away, Monster! (for comparison purposes):

This is BARELY a game... but for younger kids (3-5 years), it's one they will play over & over & over again. I wish it was more difficult to tell the good things & monsters apart in the bag - but the opportunity to throw a monster tile into the box & yell "Go away, Monster!" at the top of your lungs is an awfully strong selling point.