Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Game Review: Forbidden Island

Forbidden Island
  • designer: Matt Leacock
  • publisher: Gamewright
  • date: 2010
  • BoardGameGeek rank/rating: 2090/8.04
  • age: 10+
  • # of players: 2-4
  • print status: in print
  • cost: $11.20 (Boards & Bits)
Maybe it's because I started writing this review during the final few weeks of the TV series, LOST... but the whole "island full of crumbling ruins & ancient secrets" vibe resonates pretty strongly with me right now.

But don't take my (admittedly gamer-oriented) word for it: listen to my (gamer-in-training) 8 year old son... or his non-gamer 8 year old friends... or my long-suffering wife (who games because she loves me!)... or even other actual gamers who've played the game. It's been a hit with everyone who has had the opportunity to play!

Forbidden Island is a cooperative game for 2-4 players, though since the game is played with open hands, it works just fine as a solitaire game as well, with the player controlling two (or more) pawns. (Another odd Lost reference: this is definitely a "live together or die alone" kind of game.) Regardless of the number of players, it seems to clock in at right about a half hour of playing time.

The color text of the game has the players on a search for elemental treasures (The Crystal of Fire, the Statue of the Wind, The Ocean's Chalice & the Earth Stone) created by an ancient civilization. Of course, it's not a simple archaeological expedition - the island is booby-trapped to begin sinking when anyone attempts to steal the treasures... and that's exactly what you're here to do.

I could go into a detailed rules explanation... but that seems pretty pointless when a PDF of the rulebook is available online, thanks to the good folks at Gamewright. Simply put, you're using 3 actions per turn to move your piece across an island made of tiles, attempting to collect the treasures, shore up the sinking parts of the island, and generally survive long enough for all of you to grab the last helicopter off the island (is Frank Lapidus the pilot?). At the end of each turn, you draw cards to increase your hand (and potentially increase the rate of flooding) as well to sink more parts of the island.

There are lots of ways to lose:

  • if the helicopter landing pad sinks, you lose
  • if one of your team doesn't survive, you lose
  • if you fail to recover all four treasures, you lose
  • if the island floods completely, you lose

But it wouldn't be much of a cooperative game if you won all the time, right? So far, we're doing very well playing at the Novice setting, while we're about 50/50 at the Normal setting. I have yet to convince my son to try it at the more difficult settings. (BTW, a clever game feature - you only have to change the starting level of the water - indicated on a sliding scale - to change the difficulty of the game. No re-mixing the deck, no convoluted alternative set-up.)

The components are high quality - nice cards, great chunky tiles with evocative "forbidden island" artwork that reminds me a bit of the computer game Myst, and nifty plastic "treasures" - all packaged in a cool-looking tin with a well-designed box insert. (For those of you non-gamers, the "well-designed insert" may not sound like a big deal, but I can tell you from experience that it makes it easier to transport & keep the game in top-notch condition... and that not all companies think this part through.)

A side note: since the designer, Matt Leacock, is best known for his OTHER cooperative game, Pandemic, it's helpful to note that while the games share some mechanics (most notably the Infection/Waters Rise restacking of the decks & the various player roles that allow each person to "break" the rules in a particular way), the board play (due to the sinking tiles) and kid-friendly theme make for a very different game experience.

Finally, the recommended age of 10 is correct - but only if the kids are going to be playing without any adults helping run the game. With a friendly adult, the game can easily be played by kids as young as 5. The cheap price point (the MSRP is only $15.99) means that Forbidden Island will likely be one of the best kid gaming investments you're likely to make this year.

Migration: Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon

The "Migration" posts are actually much older articles I wrote for the church @ hickory hollow e-newsletter back almost 10 years ago. I've edited them a bit for clarity (and because some of them just needed an editor!)... and in this case, substantially rewritten the end of the article to reflect 8+ years of experience.

I'm not always a big martial arts movie buff, but Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon is more of a cross between an 'artsy film' & a 'martial arts flick'. Either way, it kept me entertained the other night - sure beat the heck out of The Mummy Returns, which I'd also rented.


I actually have a reason for bringing up Crouching Tiger... the fight scenes in it were spell-binding in their speed and grace. Blocking one blow after another, deflecting kicks & lunges & punches, parrying with spears & swords & whatever else they can find... all at a lightning pace.

But, of course, someone has to win, so one opponent would surprise the other and deliver an incredible blow. Stunning not only in its physical power but also in the raw shock of being hit.

Feels a little like life, huh? Blocking one thing after another from hurting you and your family, fending off creditors & bosses & people bent on irritating you for no good reason, parrying the verbal thrusts of gossip, lies & anger...

...and then someone/something blind-sides you. Hits you with incredible force, knocking you off your balance, setting you up to be hit again... and again... and again...

Why? Well, I'm not sure I have the be-all and end-all answer to this one... but I do know what's meant the most to me the past few days. Shari told me about it following her quiet time (read: time spent praying & studying the Bible) earlier this week... it's a quote from Beth Moore:
"The enemy can't squelch the power of God so he tries to disable the people of God."
And the verse she quotes is from one of Paul's letter (2nd Corinthians 1):
"We do not want you to be uninformed, brothers, about the hardships we suffered in the province of Asia. We were under great pressure, far beyond our ability to endure, so that we despaired even of life. Indeed, in our hearts we felt the sentence of death. But this happened that we might not rely on ourselves but on God, who raises the dead. He has delivered us from such a deadly peril, and he will deliver us. On him we have set our hope that he will continue to deliver us, as you help us by your prayers. Then many will give thanks on our behalf for the gracious favor granted us in answer to the prayers of many."
Paul was, in the language of martial arts & schoolyard brawls, getting the poop kicked out of him. Read it... "great pressure", "far beyond our ability to endure", "despaired even of life", "felt the sentence of death". That's not just a bad hair day.

But the issue for Paul was so he could rely on God... and the issue Beth Moore raises parallels that: Satan would LOVE for us to believe that our lousy circumstances & the below-the-belt punches of life mean that God is gone and/or doesn't care... so we might as well give up.

When I originally wrote this post (back in the Spring of 2002!), I was freaked out about our church plant moving our services to Saturday nights in order to save $ on renting facilities. For me, it felt like one thing after another had imploded or exploded on me... and the temptation to sit down & give up was huge. What I wrote was:
But I still believe God is doing something special here in our authentic Biblical community, and that letting myself be disabled in the process means I'll miss out on it. I'm not going there.

Don't you go there.
As Paul Harvey used to say, "Now for the... rest of the story." 6 months later, the church @ hickory hollow closed. I went on to work the phone for JC Penney catalog sales & sleeve/stack videos for a fulfillment company. As you can probably guess, this is was not the "something special" from God I had anticipated.

But in that same time period, I had an incredible renewal of my calling to ministry & my desire to live for Christ. That personal revival got me ready to meet the incredible folks @ Easton Southern Baptist Church (now known as NewLife Community Church) where I've been pastor for almost 7 years.

And in those intervening years, I've been privileged to see how God has led a number of the key folks from the church @ hickory hollow to places of healing, restoration & leadership. God has done something special... just not the way I'd planned to see it happen.

BTW, anyone want to watch Enter the Dragon with me? :-)

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

The Beautiful Game(s)

Soccer was the first sport I ever felt semi-competent at as a kid... which probably has a lot to do with my enjoyment of the game, particularly played at World Cup level. It's the only sport I've ever "officially" coached. (Note: I coached Under 6 soccer, which is kind of like saying, "I herded cats while they played with a white ball & got distracted by their surroundings.")

I'm not a great soccer player - I don't have the stamina, the coordination or the willingness to practice to get better in those areas. I can handle the ball & can "see the field," which means I was (once upon a time) a passable midfielder.

Soccer, by the way, is probably the easiest of the team sports to teach to young kids. While I enjoy watching the royal mess that is T-Ball, those kids have no idea what they're doing and/or why. But as long as you can sling up two goals, mark the edges of the field & get a decent ball on the ground, you play soccer. (You may not play it well, but you can play.)

All of this is introduction to my "real" topic, soccer board games. There are a LOT of soccer board games available (Tony A over on BGG has an excellent Geeklist entitled Kick Off & Goal! that contains 50+ of them)... and I've only played 5-6 of them. That won't stop me, of course, from commenting on them.

My 9 year old son & I had a three game "match" this weekend, playing 3 of the games I own:

The first game was Soccer Tactics - this is a dice-based game which is played in real time (stopwatch included) and has a nice fluidity to the game (once you get past the tik-takky stuff in the rules). It has a bad reputation due to [a] a ill-conceived design choice to put the scoring spinner in the middle of the board (which has been solved by the addition of a scoring die), and [b] by the less-than-congenial relationship that the company has had with BGG.

Braeden & I called a draw after the first overtime period... the game runs a little long (90 minute for the game + 15 per extra period, just like soccer) and he was ready to go outside.

The second game was Streetsoccer, a backgammon-ish 5-on-5 soccer game that plays quickly (25 turns) is incredibly simple to learn. Don't let that fool you - the folks who are good at the game are REALLY good at the game.

Braeden beat me in the final minute with a long goal to win 4-3.

Finally, we played Finale, a game only published in German in the 2-player Kosmos line. It borrows the rotating card mechanic from the Settlers of Catan Card Game combined with a set of Tactics cards to create a pretty nice simulation of coaching a soccer team. Fouls & injuries are a little too common, though.

The problem with the game is that it's a tad fiddly, what with all the marking & turning of player cards. I've got my copy up for trade, but I like it enough that it would take a really good offer for me to part with it.

Braeden won this in the penalty shootout after 2 extra periods.

Here's two other soccer games:

  • Subbuteo - A very cool flicking game that has a RABID following. Someday, I'll trade somebody for a couple of teams so I can play it when I want to...
  • Lego Soccer - I have 3 different sets thrown together, so I can make a pretty large field. Sadly, it's cooler in theory than it is in actual play... but, hey, it's Lego!

June Is A Busy Month

So far, we've managed to:
  • drive home from our vacation with family on the Oregon Coast, stopping by Prehistoric Gardens, Founders Grove & the Jelly Belly Factory
  • celebrate Braeden's 9th birthday
  • celebrate our 20th wedding anniversary with a 2 night trip to Cambria (mmmm, The Sow's Ear & their wonderful Flower Pot bread)
  • celebrate Father's Day (thanks for the T-shirts from glennz.com, my wonderful sons!)
  • start swim lessons
  • start Vacation Bible School @ NewLife
  • watch a lot of World Cup soccer (Kaka did not deserve a red card, while the USA did not deserve to have a goal taken away while we were being mugged by Slovenian defenders... OTOH, the Italians are in the running for Best Actor honors at the next Academy Awards ceremony)
  • join the beta tester corps at Days of Wonder to play/test the upcoming Memoir '44 Online (it rocks, btw... not sure what details I'm allowed to give but they do have a public forum over on the DoW site)

There's one more special day to go this month... how much fun can we pack into 30 days!?

Thursday, June 17, 2010

20 Years ("It Did")

20 years ago yesterday (June 16th, 1990), I married the love of my life in a Baptist church in Ft. Worth, TX. (OK, if you want to be picky, it was actually in North Richland Hills, a suburb of Ft. Worth... sheesh.) Right after giving my heart & life to Jesus Christ, it's the best decision I've made in my life.

When we met, she was just 18 years old, a college freshman... and I was working on my third year of seminary. Shari remembers my hands shaking when I gave her information on how to get to my apartment for the young adult small group we were starting. (I don't remember that, btw - but she was pretty and that could have definitely made me nervous.)

We talked on the phone after that first Bible study... one of those long, wonderful conversations where it feels like the person has been your best friend for years. At the end of the conversation, I asked her to go see a Tim Miner concert with me at Footloose.

Yes, it was the 80's, so the local Christian club in D/FW called themselves "Footloose" (six degrees of Kevin Bacon, anyone?!) We watched a great show (Tim, being a local guy, had a big band and dancers, which wasn't a typical "Footloose" show)... and in the rush of the crowd leaving, I took her hand.

We ate at Chili's for dinner... and that's when I found out that she was just 18 years old. As I had been giving my roommate (and eventual best man) a hard time for scamming on a 19 year old girl from church (who married him!), I knew I was in trouble. That was November 4th, 1988.

After a few more dates, our first kiss came as I was leaving for Thanksgiving... and (fast-forwarding through a great story about Shari breaking up with me and then her mom inviting me in for apple pie that I need to tell y'all later) by my mom's 50th birthday dinner on Coronado Island (at the Hotel Del in the Five Crowns room), I was sure enough of where I wanted this relationship to go to tell my dad that I thought I'd met the girl I would end up marrying.

Happily, I was right. But it was still a long road to get there.

Without going into details, our dating relationship was not particularly healthy. We struggled with sexual stuff, we were over-the-top emotional about "the status of our relationship," and we broke up two different times on our way to getting engaged. Frankly, if I as a pastor now was counseling the young couple that was Shari & I, I'd probably encourage the two of us seriously reconsider our plans to marry.

In the midst of all the turmoil and junior-high-quality "drama", however, was two people who really wanted to draw close to God. And, more importantly, a God who drew close to us through His death on the cross, His resurrection, the presence of the Holy Spirit & the counsel of Scripture.

On New Year's Eve 1990, two sets of friends from our small group got engaged - both of them to people they'd met through newspaper personal ads! We followed suit a few weeks later... and I gave her the engagement ring in March, just before I left to become youth pastor at First Baptist Church, Fordyce, Arkansas. (We saw The Little Mermaid that night... then went to the park and had Communion together as our first act as an engaged couple.)

I had decided I was only coming back to Ft. Worth once (for a wedding) before Shari & I got married - I ended up coming back three times plus that final, wonderful trip to finally marry my beautiful bride.

There are lots of stories that fit into those final days:
  • my bachelor's party, complete with video games, go-karts & a trophy for being the "Best Groom!"
  • Shari & her mom shopping for her Peignoir set and ending up meeting some very interesting people (you need for Shari to tell you this story!)
  • Shari learning first hand about what it's like to ride in a car with my dad

But the things I remember best are the day of the wedding:

  • hiding my car with Tim so it wouldn't get "decorated"
  • laughing with Tim & Keith as we got dressed while Mark, my brother-in-law to be, videotaped us
  • my sister & Bill Taylor singing at the wedding
  • the dread on the faces of Shari's bridesmaids (still don't understand that to this day... Jenn & Tracey are two wonderful people that we still keep in touch with... but they looked like someone had shot their dog as they came down the aisle)
  • my eldest niece, Rebecca, walking down the aisle not actually throwing out any flower petals.... then handing me the basket so she could suck her thumb
  • my bride walking down the aisle on her dad's arm, smiling with such joy
  • the two of us giggling as we figured out how long the bridge of "I Will Be Here" is when you're trying to stand there and look deeply into each other's eyes
  • the wedding photographer griping at us for kissing each other so much

And so much more...

That was 20 years ago... and I am still deliriously happy to be married to my wonderful, godly, beautiful wife. She is my friend, my encourager, the mother of my boys, the voice of wisdom when I go haywire, a gift from God and my true companion.

I still make mix tapes for her - a tradition that goes back to our dating years. (Only now they're mix CD's... which I also burn onto her iPod. Times change, eh?) I found a new song this last week that captures perfectly how I feel after 20 years with Shari Jo.

A single red rose and a table for two

A nice chardonnay and an ocean view

Ships coming in and stars coming out

We sat and we talked till the place closed down

Then we took a long walk down on the beach

Her and that white dress and her bare feet

We stopped and we watched the lighthouse light

I pulled her close and I held on tight

And I said to myself

"It doesn’t get better than this

"No, it doesn’t get better than this"

And it did, it did, oh it did.

Fast forward to that next spring

We were looking for a preacher

Picking out rings

Family coming in and friends coming out

To that little white church on the outskirts of town

Me in that tux fighting butterflies

Tears of joy in my mama’s eyes

Her daddy walking her down the aisle

He lifted that veil and I saw that smile

And I said to myself

"It doesn’t get better than this

"No, it doesn’t get better than this"

But it did, it did, oh it did

Just when I start thinking it's as good as it can get

This crazy life does something just to let me know

I haven’t seen anything yet

Nine months later nearly to the day

There we were flying down the interstate

Car weaving in, car weaving out

Through traffic running every red light in town

Delivery room and the doctor comes in

I’m right beside her she’s squeezing my hand

One more push and a baby cries

Sweet little angel with his mama’s eyes

And I said to myself

"It doesn’t get better than this

"No, it doesn’t get better than this"

But it did, it did, oh it did

Yes, it did
"It Did" by Brad Paisley

Sunday, June 06, 2010

D-Day: The Normandy Invasion

D-Day: The Normandy Invasion Originally uploaded by The U.S. Army

This is one of many incredible photos available on flickr.com at the U.S. Army photostream.

"We are the children of your sacrifice. We are the sons and daughters you saved from tyranny's reach. We grew up behind the shield of the strong alliances you forged in blood upon these beaches, on the shores of the Pacific, and in the skies above." (B. Clinton)

Friday, June 04, 2010

27 Reasons Not To Buy Sonlight

I've been needing to post about homeschooling for a while... and with the impending end of the school year, now is as good a time as any.

Let me note that while we use Sonlight curriculum, I am not compensated in any way for posting this stuff. It fits our desires for our kids so well that I love to talk about it.

What follows are some pithy quotes from an article on the Sonlight website entitled 27 Reasons Not To Buy Sonlight. (It's worth reading the whole thing if this is an issue you've been considering.)

6. They don't want to address false, foolish, or questionable ideas.

Parents who object to Sonlight Curriculum on this ground usually either

  1. believe it is wrong to mention or teach about beliefs or practices that are different from their own;
  2. can't invest the time to help their children process these ideas; or
  3. lack the confidence to discern themselves what is true and false or provide their children with appropriate replies.

Whatever their motivations, these parents feel uncomfortable with Sonlight's commitment to present all sides of a case.

If the thoughts I've just expressed create a fearful lump in your chest, however, let me note that your children will run into these ideas and practices some day.

Since that is the case, consider with me: What better place is there for your children first to encounter and learn how to address false beliefs, foolish ideas or questionable arguments ... than in the supportive environment of your home—with your help?

We believe you should introduce your children to the difficult subjects, carefully instruct them about why certain positions are false, foolish or questionable, and then teach them how to respond to those people you (and, by God's grace, they) may view as opponents ... in gracious strength and humility.

9. They want a "Bible-centered" homeschool program.

We believe that academics ought to be based on and intentionally related to Scripture. While we seek to act on that conviction, we do not believe that everything we read must be accompanied by a reference to or quotation from Scripture.

We believe there are times and places where a certain passage of Scripture will provide great insight or new understanding concerning a subject. In such circumstances, we quote or reference the appropriate Scripture.

But if you are looking for a program that somehow manages to display at least one Scripture reference per paragraph, page, chapter, etc., Sonlight Curriculum will not satisfy your requirements.

14. They want to present all content as "absolute truth," without question or doubt.

Though we base our curriculum on a solid, mission-minded, evangelical Christian interpretation of Scripture, we recognize that most history is far too open to conflicting interpretations to be presented in absolute terms.

In many cases, we cannot possibly know "for sure" what happened. And we refuse to speak as if we can. We do seek to give a fair representation of "both sides" of any issues concerning which we ourselves are in some doubt.

We take this approach in history; we take it also in other subjects. (See "27 Reasons Families Love Sonlight" for specific examples.)

We do this because we want to be fair when other perspectives merit discussion. We want students to know not only what they believe, but, almost more importantly, why. And we want to encourage students to think critically and to act with gracious humility toward those who hold differing views.

We want to make sure students are able comfortably to differentiate Scripture from interpretations of Scripture and both of those from human ideas about events in our world ... so they can treat each of these wisely and well.

17. They want a curriculum to praise the Christian character and roots of the United States.

Sonlight Curriculum commits to train children with a missionary heart for all of God's world and to embrace all peoples with realistic discernment—European Americans no more and no less than others.

We are as fascinated as the next person with those aspects of American history that are uniquely Christian. We are also happy to point them out. But we seek to go far beyond this.

For example, we seek to show how things look(ed) from the perspective of the peoples who were displaced by the European colonists. And we discuss issues of racism not only as it may have impacted the American Civil War but in other contexts as well. Over the years, we've found this desire for a balanced perspective sets us apart from a large segment of the homeschool curriculum community.

22. They want to guard their children from anything “offensive”—at all costs.

Sonlight has no interest in promoting unbiblical practices or ungodly behavior. However, we do believe a book should be judged on the value it offers, rather than the negative attributes it omits.

As you delve into some of the greatest literature ever written, you will probably come across some words, ideas, or characters that will offend you.

We hope that when our customers encounter truly "bad" characters in literature, they can help their children examine good and evil and gain wisdom. We envision the literary experience as a joint parent-child effort that sparks quality discussion of values and truth; it’s a process of evaluating both the good and bad of the world in order to gain the treasure contained in an excellent work.

Imagine eating a nutritious fish, grilled to perfection and filled with all the flavors you love.The nutritional value and flavor of the meat make it worth your while to "work around the bones."

Please consider: 1) If you want your older students never to read books with occasional profanities; 2) if you require that your children read literature with only wholesome characters; or 3) if it doesn’t matter to you whether a work is a “literary masterpiece” or a cultural essential, if it has no overt Christian themes, you’d rather not have it in your home—you may have difficulty with some of the classic literature we offer.

It's important to note that this isn't all there is to Sonlight - but it is these things, based on my experiences as an English major & as a pastor (youth & senior), that really resonate with how I want to raise my boys.

Good Questions

I need to read James Davidson Hunter's To Change The World... but until I get the chance, James Emery White has done a bang-up job of summarizing the questions raised & the potential problems in this important work with his blog post, Questions On How To Change the World. Read the post & follow the links for deeper discussion of the issues raised.
Hunter saves his most scathing critique for the use of power through politics, which he finds in almost every approach to cultural engagement currently being offered in American Christianity. All, he maintains, are marked by “ressentiment,” a French word that includes our American idea of “resentment,” but also involves anger, envy, hate, rage, and revenge as the motive of political action. “Ressentiment,” writes Hunter, “is grounded in a narrative of injury or, at least, perceived injury; a strong belief that one has been or is being wronged” (p. 107).

Christians, Hunter maintains, have given themselves over to this. We’ve politicized our faith, and stake out our positions in ideological terms. This is as true of the Christian Right as the Christian Left, marking Jim Dobson as much as Jim Wallis. All have reduced the public witness of the church to a political witness (p. 169).