Sunday, August 22, 2010

Slowly Put Down Your Weapons & Back Away

I'm going to keep this really simple.

If your main news sources are:
  • talk radio
  • TV comedy shows
  • Facebook postings
Or if all of your news sources are from one political viewpoint, be it conservative or liberal...

Please think carefully before you forward what you hear... chances are excellent it is propaganda & not fact.

That is all.

OK, that is not all.
My dear brothers, take note of this: Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry, for man's anger does not bring about the righteous life that God desires. (James 1:18-19, NIV)
Now I'm done.

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Heroscape: Paddling Down The River of Blood

The long promised "River of Blood" dungeon campaign for Heroscape/Dungeons & Dragons was finally released last week, both at GenCon & online. Braeden & I dove into it last Sunday afternoon... and so far I'm impressed.

I was the "evil that lurks in the Underdark" and Braeden was the "intrepid band of heroes trying to find the source of the River of Blood." His party was:
  • Darrak Ambershard (the dwarf rogue with sneak attack)
  • the Greater Ice Elemental
  • Erevan Sunshadow (Eladrin wizard with fire blast)
  • Sharwin Wildborn (Eladrin battle mage with arcane bolt attack)
  • Brandis Skyhunter (half-elf ranger)
  • and an Air Elemental

He had some tough going in the first scenario (The Descending Stairs), losing all but two of his party members to my crew:

  • the Deepwyrm Drow (Drow squad)
  • Drow Chainfighter (Drow with chain grabbing ability)
  • Pelloth (Drow hero)
  • and a Sahuagin Raider (nasty piece of work)

Still, once he knocked Pelloth out to end the battle, his Second Wind rolls left him with just one hit on each of the "dead" guys... and then he went farther along the river into scenario #2: The Hydra's Lair. This time around, he faced:

  • 3 Fire Elementals
  • 2 Earth Elementals
  • and the aforementioned Hydra

The Fire Elementals played havoc with his team... and along with the Hydra chewing up a couple of guys, that was the end of his ill-fated expedition.

We played the first two scenarios again last Tuesday, this time with my Fresno gamer buddy Joe leading the heroes into the Underdark. He had a similar party, trading the Elemental & Brandis Skyhunter for Mogrimm Forgehammer (a dwarf warlord). I brought the Drow crew again. He had an easier time of than Braeden in the first scenario, but ended with Mogrimm one wound shy of death on his Second Wind roll.

So when he entered the Hydra's Lair, he had to leave the dwarf warlord back out of the action - and face the wrath of the Hydra, the Feral Troll & Brandis Skyhunter (enslaved to the Dark Side) a man down. Brandis made mincemeat out of his troops, defeating single handed the last three of the heroes.

The campaign rules are much improved from the first campaign (found in the Underdark scenario book), including a way for the heroes to get "dead" party members back in a wounded state.

  • They managed to design a series of "rooms" that feel different but use only the terrain that comes in the Battle for the Underdark box.
  • Combined with the need for only the 1st wave of Heroscape/D&D, you've got a campaign that is pretty flexible while not requiring a monstrous commitment of cash and/or table space.
  • The Second Wind rule is excellent - heroes who "die" in a scenario roll X dice (X = how many lives they have on the card) and begin the next scenario with one wound per skull rolled.
  • I've just received the new wave of Heroscape figures (Iron Golem! "Snotlings"! An Elemental Master!) and can't wait to see how these guys will offer new challenges in this particular dungeon.

Really Dumb Culture Wars

One of the things I love about my closest friends (be they my bride, gamers, pastors or a certain unnamed guy from high school who owned a Capri & dated someone HE named "Bimbo Surfer Chick") is that they can express the things I'm feeling & thinking better than I can (sometimes).

It's the same way I feel about certain bloggers & speakers, which is the reason you see me quote Jon Acuff (Stuff Christians Like), Anne Jackson ( and Linda Holmes (MonkeySee)... and the reason my congregation knows about Erwin McManus (Awaken), John Eldredge (Ransomed Heart) and Nelson Searcy (Church Leader Insights).

Of course, the writer who gets my vote for "Most Likely To Say What I Was Thinking With Substantially More Clarity Than I Usually Display" is James Emery White (Church & Culture). His newest blog post entitled "Strippers Go To War" is spot on - read the whole thing, whether you're jaded with the culture wars or the person always leading the charge into the next battle.
I’ll say it again. This is just dumb. They are dumb confrontations, and done in dumb ways. I won’t say they are over dumb things – I am not attempting to promote strip clubs, and if I was starting a school, I doubt I would pick the “demons” as the name of our team.

But it’s still dumb.

Why? Because the actions hold little or no hope for any real or substantive change. Because it brings the worst kind of ridicule on to the Christian faith. Because it does nothing but alienate the people we are most needing to reach for Christ.

Monday, August 16, 2010

New Games (or new to me, at least): Part Six

The ACTUAL final's the previous installments: Part One (A-B), Part Two (C-D), Part Three (E-I), Part 4 (K-M) & Park 5 (N-Ta).

  • Tobago - I was really disappointed that this wasn't nominated for Spiel des Jahres... I like the treasure map building mechanic coupled with the push-your-luck nature of the treasure draws. (I do think there are some ways to make this more gamer-friendly - but they would come at the cost of the light touch that works so well currently.) [review copy provided]
  • Twilight: The Board Game - It was a gag gift for Shari & so should be judged in that light. And even with that oh-so-friendly scale, it's a lousy game. Avoid.
  • Valdora - Another abstract "move about & collect stuff in order to collect other stuff" game... and yet I enjoyed it. Not enough to try & play it a second time and/or buy a copy, but I wouldn't object if someone asked to play.
  • Wool Rules - Another dice game in the Zoch/Rio Grande "small square box w/Doris M art" series. I think the game design is essentially solid - but it has some gamer-y elements that make it tough to teach non-gamers & some random elements that make it hard for gamers to like. Still, glad I own a copy. [review copy provided]

And eight games I played since I made the list:

  • African Park - A simplified version of my beloved Ark... with a card drafting mechanic that reminds me a bit of Zooloretto. A good little filler.
  • Dominion: Seaside & Alchemy - By this point, you've either decided you like Dominion (the winner of last year's SdJ) enough to buy all these boxes of cards or that you don't need to invest that much in plastic to sleeve 'em all. I fall into the second group, but I did have a very enjoyable game of this with friends who are much bigger fans than I. I see the appeal but I don't have the interest.
  • Exit - An old Milton Bradley abstract game that pre-dates Haba's Highly Suspect & uses the same board-tilting mechanic. I'd picked this up a long time ago at a thrift store & finally got to play it with my son - it's not going to set the gaming universe on fire but it's a very interesting game with a nifty gimmick.
  • Fresco - Earlier, I was sad Tobago wasn't nominated for the SdJ. Now add that I'm sad that Fresco didn't win... Dixit is a perfectly fine party game but Fresco manages to combine great thematic elements & clean game mechanics to make a very enjoyable game. I really like that 3 expansions come already packaged in the box!
  • Jäger und Sammler - Imagine that you somehow placed Hey! That's My Fish & Africa into a supercollider - this is the new particle that would result. There's a bit of "hunter & gatherer" theme sprayed on top of that as well. The result is actually a very enjoyable game of set collecting & balancing your options.
  • Life on the Farm - As dire as it sounds. Monopoly-esqe with content about how hard farming is... not doubting that farming is hard, but if I want to explore that in games, I always have Agricola.
  • Settlers of America: Trails to Rails - This is the Frankenstein of Catan games - there are mechanics from Settlers of the Stone Age, the train variant in Das Buch, the ship-building/discovery element from the Anno games, the extraordinary build rule from 5-6 player Catan, & even the common Poverty house rule. What emerges is a really neat set of ideas that takes way too long to play. I'm a huge Settlers fan but I won't be coming back for this one any time soon.
  • Zauberschwert & Drachenei - Surprisingly, the rules in this Adlung card game are easy to understand. (If you've messed with many Adlung card games, you understand my shock at this.) While it's got a fantasy theme, it's really a resource management/auction game. I'm looking forward to adding the first expansion in & giving it a go with a bit more complexity.

Sunday, August 15, 2010

Journalism Warning Labels

Thanks to, I happened on these wonderful & highly useful stickers to affix to newspapers & newsmagazines. (They might be esp. helpful with cable news, but putting a sticker on your plasma screen is not recommended.)

Read Tom Scott's entire post on Journalism Warning Labels, please... well done, sir!

Thursday, August 05, 2010

New Games (or new to me, at least): Part Five

The penultimate installment in my series on new games... you can also read Part One (A-B), Part Two (C-D), Part Three (E-I) & Part 4 (K-M).

New Games (to me): N-Ta
  • Nuns on the Run - My first play of this was delightful... the four of us had a blast. But then the whole "are we doing the noise rules correctly?" debating set in with the next game, as well as the sinking realization that the guard nuns never win and pretty much took all the fun out of it for me.
  • Patrician - I only played this online for Jeff's Game of the Month... and it felt like a standard Michael Schacht abstract-y investment game. Nothing here so compelling that I feel a need to try it again.
  • Piece o' Cake - The first time was fun, then as players slowed down to think through their moves, the fun evaporated. However, I played the other night with a group who didn't dilly-dally and found myself enjoying it again. Obviously, your mileage may vary.
  • Pocket Battles: Celts vs. Romans - The rules in this first release in the series leave something to be desired... thank goodness for BGG and someone who put together a pretty massive FAQ for the game. (I will say that the rules for the new "Elves vs Orcs" box have been cleaned up & clarified - much better.) The game itself is quick - choosing your army is about a third of the game. Once we figured out how to play, we're really enjoying it.
  • Prophecy: Dragon Realm - The long-promised expansion to Prophecy (a fantasy adventure game)... I like the stuff it adds to the base game a lot, and the Dragon Realm is fun. Wish it got to the table more.
  • Risk: Balance of Power - A two-player Risk game not yet published in the USA. The design uses a neutral nation that both players control plus a Piece'o Cake-ish "one player sets up the game board, the other player chooses his side" mechanic that insures a relatively fair start. The game also uses objectives like Risk: Black Ops/Revised. I want to get more chances to play this!
  • Schatz der Mumie - A full review of "Mummy's Treasure" is coming, but this is a very nice cross between Yahtzee & Tetris that works great with kids & gamers. (Review copy provided)
  • Scrabble SLAM! - Quick recognition card game - Shari whupped me at it. It'll be a nice edition to the "small games to travel with" box.
  • Tannhäuser Revised Edition Rulebook - Tannhauser is a theme-dripped alternative history battle game set in 1949 with the world still in the throes of the First World War. With elements of Hellboy, Indiana Jones & Harry Turtledove in the mix, the Reich (and their Obscura Corps) search objects of power while the Army of the Union seek to stop them before they open portals to unleash infinite evil. It's a pulp-y good time... but until the release of this new rulebook, it was a flawed game system with a great theme. FFG did an amazing job of streamlining & fixing the game without forcing anyone to buy new components. I like the new version enough to acquire the available expansion sets!

Framing the Conversation: Is There An Echo In Here? Redux

This is the third time I've posted this excerpt from Framing the Conversation: How To Get Kicked Out of a Gaming Group... and in light of yesterday's decision by Judge Walker about Prop. 8, it's time to post it once again. It was originally written the night of the election back in 2008.

I want to speak specifically to those who declare themselves as followers of Christ. We have a huge responsibility tonight, esp. in regards to Proposition 8.

If Prop. 8 passes, we have to live out the love for gays & lesbians we've talked about... there is NO ROOM for gloating in the gospel of Jesus Christ. These people are not second-class citizens, to be loved only if they "mend their ways" - they are created in God's image & loved so much by God that He sent Jesus to die for them (and for us!). To do the church-y equivalent of "Hey, Hey, Goodbye" is a sick perversion of the love of Jesus Christ...

If Prop. 8 is defeated, we must still live out the love of Jesus Christ in a political situation that is not friendly to our values. I can not state it emphatically enough - this does NOT justify us behaving in an unfriendly manner to homosexuals or those who support same-sex marriage. If we're gonna call ourselves "biblical Christians", then we better live like it.

Be wise in the way you act toward outsiders; make the most of every opportunity. Let your conversation be always full of grace, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how to answer everyone. (Colossians 4:5-6, NIV)

If someone asks about your Christian hope, always be ready to explain it. But do this in a gentle and respectful way. Keep your conscience clear. Then if people speak against you, they will be ashamed when they see what a good life you live because you belong to Christ. (1 Peter 3:15-16, NLT)
The most important thing today is not the election of a particular candidate - no one person will usher in the Kingdom of God. (Well, one will, but He's not running this year.) Nor is it the passing of a proposition - law can compel moral behavior but it has no power over the heart. It is far more important that the world around us see followers of Jesus living in the grace & power of Jesus Christ.

A couple of closing suggestions:
  • Strike the phrases "activist judge(s)" (for you conservatives) and "fundamentalist Puritans" (for you not-so-conservatives) from your vocabulary. While there may be some truth to this in some situations, it makes us sound like little kids (or certain unnamed adult gamers) who start accusing people of cheating the minute they start losing. (In gamer terms, this is similar to arguing that a game is "broken" because you couldn't win it using the strategy you thought you should be able to use. Pathetic.)
  • Stop gloating/whining. The process isn't done yet (the decision may or may not survive appeals) and we just don't know what is or isn't going to happen.

And a final thought... the best thing you can do to support marriage is to do everything in your power to have a great marriage and/or support those around you in doing the same.

Wednesday, August 04, 2010

Migration: What's Your Name Again?

This post was originally written in January 2000 - I've substantially revised it before posting it here in July 2009. The reason for re-posting it yet again (August 2010) is that I finally found & scanned the picture that's the focus of the story.

May of 1983... outside my dorm (Penland Hall) on the last day of my freshman year at Baylor University. I'm trying to burn off the end of a roll of film before I hop a shuttle bus to D/FW airport and my plane home for the summer. I happen on a guy from 2nd floor who's loading his car... and, for some bizarre reason, ask to take his picture.

Tim (the aforementioned guy) tells me now that he wondered what kind of idiot would take a picture of someone he hardly knew. I just kept thinking that I could get the roll developed quicker if I used up the film. So, I've got this odd picture of a guy standing against his Firebird in a parking lot with a very quizzical look on face... as if to say, "Hurry up and take your stupid picture... I want to start driving home."

Fast forward to June of 1990... on the platform of Shady Oaks Baptist Church where I'm waiting in my tux for Shari to appear. Standing next to me is that same guy - Tim Formby, my best man.

Fast forward again to October of 1996... in a hotel room in Forrest City, Arkansas. After a night of boardgaming, Tim and I stay up late discussing the ideas & dreams that will become the church @ hickory hollow.

And I've still got that crazy picture of him... and it reminds me that none of us know what role people will end up playing in our lives. We don't have a clue. (And that ought to cause us to think twice about how live out what we believe in front of 'strangers'... hmmm.)

Of course, I've got to belabor my point for just a moment... every person you meet is an "eternal being" (in other words, they will live forever, either with God or without Him). Simply put: you have never met an "average" person... each one of us matters to God. It's about time we started living like it... waiters, checkers, the guy in the next cubicle, friends, the girl who drives like a maniac... all of them... an eternal being. Wow. (Credits to C.S. Lewis for putting this idea in my head.

I think that's true of churches, too. Chances are pretty good you didn't know what to expect when you walked in the doors of the church you attend - or, in my case, pastor. Oh, sure, you can read the website & look at the promotional materials, but that isn't the same as being smack dab in the middle of the experience.

Chances are also pretty good that your impression of your church has changed... some for the worse, some for the better. For Shari & I, the moment that NewLife Community Church wwent from being a job I loved to place where we belonged was when Braeden was in Valley Children's being treated for Kawasaki syndrome.

Here's what I'd love for you to do... take a minute & think about this statement: you've never been in an "average" church.

Really. Think about it! If none of us are average people - if we're each special, created with purpose & destiny, then the churches we are a part of are stuffed full of non-average people. And they're filled to the brim with purpose & destiny!

Now, your church may not feel like that this weekend. That doesn't mean it's not true - it just means it could be buried under a load of other junk: useless traditions, outdated methods, cultural imperatives that mask the truth of the Gospel. So it's time for you to start a revolution - to value each person in each pew (or chair or whatever) as people created by God who have the potential to change not only your life but the lives of people around the world.

Interview With A Vamp... err, Former Christian

I am probably the last person who should comment in any detail about author Anne Rice's announcement that she is no longer a Christian. The following is from her Facebook page:
“For those who care, and I understand if you don’t: Today I quit being a Christian. I’m out. I remain committed to Christ as always but not to being “Christian” or to being part of Christianity. It’s simply impossible for me to “belong” to this quarrelsome, hostile, disputatious, and deservedly infamous group. For ten years, I’ve tried. I’ve failed. I’m an outsider. My conscience will allow nothing else.

As I said below, I quit being a Christian. I’m out. In the name of Christ, I refuse to be anti-gay. I refuse to be anti-feminist. I refuse to be anti-artificial birth control. I refuse to be anti-Democrat. I refuse to be anti-secular humanism. I refuse to be anti-science. I refuse to be anti-life. In the name of Christ, I quit Christianity and being Christian. Amen.”

The only book of hers I've read is her spiritual autobiography, Called Out of Darkness... and here's how I reviewed it on Goodreads:
I've never read an Anne Rice novel. (I did collect the Interview w/a Vampire comics for a while, but that was a long time ago.) So I don't come to this spiritual memoir as a fan.

I'm not a Roman Catholic, either... though the book is about a person's journey from Catholic faith to atheism & back to Catholicism.

So my review/response to this book is colored by these things.

Here's the bullet points:
  • the structure of the book is rambling... and that's being charitable. While individual passages are brilliantly written, they're set in a rickety framework that feels like it is threatening to collapse at any moment.
  • it's very interesting to watch spiritual conversion inside another "branch" of Christianity. The emotional content & the basic theology is similar; the trappings & traditions are unfamiliar (esp. to a kid who grew up inside a conservative evangelical Protestant church.)
  • the last chapter of the book (her "suggestion" about rewriting Catholic doctrine about marriage & sexuality) feels tacked on.
In closing: interesting read at times that suffers from shoddy editing.
If you didn't know a little about her life, this is her second time to leave the Church/Christianity - the book focuses on how she returned to the RC Church after loving it as a child & leaving it in her teen years.

Beyond that, I don't have much to say - but there a couple of folks that I respect that have done a nice job responding to this pronouncement with humor & grace:

Jon Acuff on his blog Stuff Christians Like: Reacting To Anne Rice
Yowsa! I’m not sure she could have received more heat if she had said, “My next book is going to be about Harry Potter using a Golden Compass to figure out the DaVinci Code.”...

So why weren’t more people upset that Anne Rice said, “I refuse to be Anti-Democrat?”... To say you have to renounce Christianity to be a Democrat seems as extreme of a stance as the girls who said they couldn’t date me in college because they were dating God. All I wanted was a blooming onion from The Outback, I’m not sure we needed Yahweh involved in that.
Justin McRoberts on his blog: Open Letter to Anne Rice
But I take issue with the notion that you must disassociate yourself from ‘christian’ people. I mean sure, we’re a motley lot. Belonging to this family can often feel like you’ve adopted a few thousand drunk uncles. It’s incredibly embarrassing at times and frustrating at least as often. I get it. But I also read that you’re making your move “in the name of Christ” and that presents a rather perplexing dilemma for someone who wants to quit on people. You see, Christ hasn’t quit on us and if you choose to align yourself with Him, then neither can you...

It’s simply reasonable that if you set yourself against people who set themselves against people you are only adding to the friction. If part of your issue with christianity is it’s exclusivity, you aren’t helping by only including those who “get it” the way you do. True christian inclusivity means embracing the homosexual and the gay-basher in the same embrace; working for the release of the oppressed while praying and working for the redemption of their oppressor; loving the beautiful game of baseball and yet, somehow, also loving the Yankees. It means loving the Lord with all of yourself and also loving those who grossly misrepresent Him.
Follow the links & read what these guys have to say - it's worth your time.

Monday, August 02, 2010

Diego Drachenzahn

Of course, one of the few major Haba releases I haven't played in the last year or so wins the Kinderspiel des Jahres - Diego Drachenzahn!

Sorry I don't have more information - I'll get to work on it right away!
(This was JUST announced...) Here's the game description from BGG:
Publisher's website: "Snarl! Dragon Diego Dart has missed the target once again! What's more he has set fire to Uncle Drooge's hat! But which target did he want to hit? Can he still win this race in the dragons' fire spitting competition? A fiery game of skill for 2-4 players."

In Diego Drachenzahn, you will first choose a target alley that you're trying to hit, then roll 3 balls into the right slot. The others will try to guess what your target was. They score when they guess corectly, and you score when your fireballs hit their target. Who will end up with the most points?