Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Game Expansion Preview: Memoir '44 Equipment Pack

Many years ago, Jason Matthews (the co-designer of Twilight Struggle, Founding Fathers & 1960: Making of a President) called me a "closet toy soldier collector" based on my enjoyment of the Gamemaster series of games (Axis & Allies, Fortress America, etc.) and the Hasbro/Avalon Hill edition of History of the World. I was compelled to mention my addiction to Heroscape & my budding collection of Attacktix figures to support his accusation.

Well, for all the closet toy soldier collectors (like me!) out there, the folks at Days of Wonder have decided to throw you a bone. Well, actually, 185 bones. The newest Memoir '44 expansion set is called the Equipment Pack - and it's basically a pile of wonderful plastic pieces to spice up your Memoir '44 set.

There are some new vehicles:

  • Hobart's Funnies - complete with interchangeable accessories!
  • Screaming Meemies (with Smoke Shell capability)
  • Tank Destroyers
  • Kubelwagen (command cars)
As well as some new troops:
  • French infantry
  • Polish cavalry
  • Finnish ski troops
  • Italian artillery
In addition, there are a number of figures that replace certain badges (some with updated information cards):
  • special weapons assets like machine guns & mortars
  • Long Tom (Big Guns)
  • Landing Craft
  • Tank Destroyers
  • Snipers
And as a thoughtful addition for newer closet toy soldier collectors, the vehicles that were originally published with the Battle Map series:
  • Supply Trucks
  • Half Tracks
  • Long Range Patrol Cars ("jeeps")
  • Tiger tanks

While you can retrofit these nifty new pieces into earlier scenarios, the good folks at Days of Wonder thoughtfully have provided 11 new "regular" scenarios, 2 Breakthrough scenarios, 3 Overlord scenarios... and, for good measure, a way to combine two of the smaller scenarios into one large Overlord battle.

The appropriate new information cards are in the box (along with a set in French for those of you who "Parlez-vous fran├žais". There is a rulebook (in multiple languages) and a scenario book (similar in format to the last few expansions).

I was surprised to find no new terrain, badges or tokens in this set - but in many cases, that's exactly what these figures are replacing.

There are always two questions when dealing with Memoir '44 expansions that have to be answered:
  • Which expansions do I need to make this expansion playable?
    • The BGG entry has an extensive list (under the More Information tab) scenario by scenario, but if you'll need at least a base game & the Terrain Pack. A Winter/Desert board (or two) as well as Winter Wars & the Mediterranean Theater would be nice as well... and you'll wanted the Overlord & Breakthrough expansion for those scenarios. Finally, the Urban Combat deck from Battle Map #3 is used in one of the Overlord scenarios.
  • Is this expansion an essential part of my Memoir '44 collection?
    • I don't know that I'd use the word "essential" - but if you enjoy the high "toy factor" of Memoir '44, this adds some wonderful bits to the game along with some really nifty new rules & unit types. I'd feel sad if I didn't have it in my collection.
So far, I've played 3 of the one board scenarios and one of the Overlord scenarios (with a fifth scenario set up in my game room, waiting for my son & I!). The scenarios are not perfectly balanced but they have all been very enjoyable to play, even on the losing side. (Yes, I've lost 3 of the 4. Don't rub it in.)

This post was originally written in August of 2012 - but somehow missed getting published. My apologies both to Days of Wonder (who thoughtfully provided the review copy) and to my readers.

Monday, November 19, 2012

Google Me (Classic)

This is a very old aka pastor guy post (from 2005)... at the end, I've updated it a bit.

I decided to Google myself this morning. (For those who are not computer-savvy, Google is a very effective search engine that helps find websites that match the information you put into the system.) 

In this case, I typed in "mark jackson" pastor (the quotes make sure the search engine looks for occurrences of the whole phrase) and it spit out 614 results. 

I found ample evidence of my gaming obsession - not only stuff I've posted on the web but also mentions from friends. (There's even a reference to an internet radio show/podcast that I did late last year on a show called Geekspeak.) 

The website I put up when I was hunting for a church (and you guys here at NewLife were hunting for me) is still active. (Which is weird... but kind of cool.) There's even an article I was quoted in about the On Target Conference I attended back in February. (I remember being interviewed for the California Baptist state paper - though I don't remember saying one of the quotes attributed to me. Not that I disagree with what it says I said... I'm just not sure I said it to the reporter.) 

 Then, of course, there's the references to people who aren't me, but just share my name:
  • Mark Jackson, NBA star, who somehow got caught up in a turf war between the coach of the Knicks & the team chapel pastor
  • a playwright named Mark Jackson (though the reviews of his play call it "sprawling & unlikely")
  • any number of Pastor Mark Jackson's, including a couple of Dr. Mark Jackson's (man, that looks weird to see my name with a "Dr." in front of it)
  • a Lutheran youth ministry professor
  • some dead people (obituaries)
  • and at least one guy serving in our armed forces
Which brings me to the most interesting part of my search - there's a Mark Jackson who is, oddly enough, been convicted of bilking church members in Tennessee and California out of approximately $1.2 million dollars. (He's also up for charges in Georgia... you can read the article at Apologetics Index for more information.) Here's the random thoughts that went through my head when I found this guy:
  • boy, if I'd embezzled over $1 million bucks, we sure wouldn't need to do a capital campaign later this year
  • how weird is it that this guy bilked churches in the last two states I've lived in?
  • man, I hate the prosperity gospel - it's anti-biblical and it has a tendency to give people permission to do stupid things
  • what would it take in my life to turn me into a con man?
If you're looking for a grand point to all this, I'm not sure I have one. But I'll certainly give it a try... maybe the overwhelming "someone walked on my grave" feeling of finding this con artist sharing my name comes from the fact that I'm invested in taking care of Mark. I've spent nearly 41 years building a reputation & a persona, and I'm not interested in letting someone/anyone mess that up. Not even God. 

So, maybe my reaction is not so much about my righteous indignation at a health & wealth "gospel" matchstick man. Maybe it's about my own fears of my precious life plan being altered... or of my carefully built facade crumbling under the weight of reality. 

I don't know... I'm going to have to think about this one a bit. What about you? What "important thing" are you scared God is going to take away? 
We must remember there are many more important things, many more important things . . . off hand, I can't think of what they are, but I'm sure there must be something.
Willie Wonka, from the film Willie Wonka & The Chocolate Factory
And now... back to 2012. A Google search today reveals a Pastor Mark Jackson (who is also the coach of the NBA Golden State Warriors) and the blackmail/sex scandal he got involved in - which simply goes to underline my point from 7 years ago. Sheesh.

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Moral / Ethical / Legal (Classic)

This is yet another classic post about gaming AND following God from 2009. For the gamers out there, there is STILL not an "official" Race for the Galaxy app - though Keldon's AI is both wonderful and "blessed" by Rio Grande Games.

OK, this is going to start with semi-technical gaming stuff, but I promise I'll actually get to a spiritual point for the non-gamers out there if you'll just hang with me. (Yes, I'm talking to you, Mom & Liz.)
It's no surprise to anyone that I'm a big fan of Race for the Galaxy, a card game designed by Tom Lehmann that takes the role selection mechanic (you get to choose a particular special action each turn that you & all the other players get to do) and uses it to create a fast-moving game of interstellar exploration & development that plays well with 2-5 players... and even has a very nifty solitaire variant. Between face-to-face & solitaire games, I've played it over 100 times.
So I was pretty excited when I read a thread title on Boardgamegeek yesterday announcing an online version of the game. Well, that excitement quickly faded when I asked whether or not the developers of the online version had permission from the designer (Tom Lehmann) or the publisher (Rio Grande Games). 

Like I said, this is going to get technical for a minute. The law that governs the copying of games is, shall we say, "in flux." (Or, for the gamers in the audience, "in Fluxx." Thank you, good night - I'll be here all this week. Don't forget to tip your waitress!) The graphics of the game board, cards, and pieces are protected by copyright, as is the specific wording of the game's rules... but the mechanics are not. (Mechanics, in board game terms, are the ways that the game works - in Monopoly, the mechanics include rolling the dice & moving, purchasing or auctioning properties, collecting rents, improving properties, mortgaging, negotiating deals.)
So, if I choose to make a new version of, say, Uno (why, why, WHY would I do this?!), I might get away with it if I changed the card colors & design, called it "First & Goal" (which is what my unsuspecting players would be forced to yell when they got down to one card) and rewrote the rules. OTOH, if I kept their card design, called it "One" and essentially copied their rules, I'd be subject to some pretty swift legal attention.

2012 Note: when I wrote this, I had no idea that my good friend & game designer, Stephen Glenn, would publish a football game called 1st & Goal. Evidently I was in "gaming prophet" mode. It, by the way, bears NO resemblance to Uno.
So, the guys getting ready to unleash their homebrewed version of Race for the Galaxy online feel like since they're using new artwork (or at least trying to find new artwork) that they fall under the "fair use" doctrine of the copyright law. 

Legally, they may be right. (Like I said earlier, there's a lot of grey areas in copyright law... and the advent of the Internet and the easy publication of almost anything has made for a lot more grey.) But is it morally or ethically right?
In this specific situation, the designer has asked the individuals not to continue (which they have refused to do) and is, along with the publisher, attempting to negotiate to license the game officially to someone else. Seems pretty clear-cut to me: these guys are taking Tom's work and benefiting from it without him.
But the specifics aren't really the issue here... the question that has intrigued me is the differentiation between
  • what is legal?
  • what is ethical?
  • what is moral?
I'm in real danger of oversimplification here as I begin this discussion - actually, there's no question I'll be doing just that. Bear with me.

Legal refers to what is lawful - do the written rules of the society permit or prohibit a particular action? Ethical refers to what is right - how should an individual or group conduct themselves as a responsible member of a society? Moral refers to what is good - what is the best behavior in light of truth & the reality of evil?

I don't want to go rabbit-chasing, but you need to know that the previous paragraph would make some academic types crazier than Carrot Top on a bad hair day. Not everyone agrees that there is any qualitative difference between morality & ethics... and don't even get started about the theories about where moral/ethical norms come from. Anyway, just wanted you to know that the preceding is my personal attempt to define the three terms.

OK, an example, courtesy of a poster on - until 1863, slavery was legal in the United States. It was the law of the land that one man could own another man... but that did not make it ethical (right) or moral (good).

Another example, this time from the Old Testament - when Shadrach, Meschach & Abednego are "prompted" to worship the huge idol or face being burned alive, they had the choice to do what was morally good (honoring God) and ethically right (being true to what they believed)... or they could simply do the legal thing and grovel on their knees.

Yes, I realize that pirating a game with an online version & the slave trade are not the same thing - not even close. (It's also not the same as worshipping a 70 ft. idol - I figured most of you would understand that.) But it is a clear example of the principle I'm trying to get across - just because something is legally permissible doesn't make it ethically right or morally good.
"Everything is permissible"—but not everything is beneficial. "Everything is permissible"—but not everything is constructive. Nobody should seek his own good, but the good of others. (1 Corinthians 10:23-24, NIV)
So, what does all this mean for those of us who claim to be followers of Jesus? Again, this is just me typing here, but I think the Biblical standards are:
  • "the good of others" (see the verse above)
  • the honor of God
  • just because I can do something doesn't mean I should do something
When we're faced with difficult decisions, our tendency is to rely on the letter of the law, whether that is a particular interpretation of the Bible or the Federal case law. As believers in Christ, that simply isn't enough - we must let go of the permissible and instead grab on with both hands to what is right & true, what is pure & good.
Our work as God's servants gets validated—or not—in the details. People are watching us as we stay at our post, alertly, unswervingly . . . in hard times, tough times, bad times; when we're beaten up, jailed, and mobbed; working hard, working late, working without eating; with pure heart, clear head, steady hand; in gentleness, holiness, and honest love; when we're telling the truth, and when God's showing his power; when we're doing our best setting things right; when we're praised, and when we're blamed; slandered, and honored; true to our word, though distrusted; ignored by the world, but recognized by God; terrifically alive, though rumored to be dead; beaten within an inch of our lives, but refusing to die; immersed in tears, yet always filled with deep joy; living on handouts, yet enriching many; having nothing, having it all. (2 Corinthians 6:4-10, MSG)

Tuesday, November 06, 2012

Religion & Politics: How To Get Tossed Out of a Gaming Group (Classic)

This post was originally written for Election Day four years ago... and I present it again with some edits because it still applies. BTW, If you haven't voted yet, what are you doing reading this blog?!

I know that some of you have been thinking, "Hey, I get to game on a regular basis with folks who put up with my foibles & quirks... I wonder if there's a good way to make sure they hate my guts & either boot my rear end out of the group and/or change meeting places & times so that I can never find them again?"

OK, maybe you haven't been thinking that - perhaps that's not really the most important question you're dealing with today. Then again, if you spent 10 minutes agonizing over the way the barista at Starbucks was gonna make your free "I voted" coffee - or if you're spending time on Ben & Jerry's website during work hours determining what flavor ice cream scoop you're gonna score with your "I voted" sticker... maybe the whole "how do I get kicked out of a game group?" question would be a step up.  

Either way, I'm planning to answer the question for you. In fact, I'm so concerned that you not overly tax your mental faculties (seeing as how many of you will spend tonight watching pundits & posers pontificate & predict - hopefully with less alliteration than I'm using), I've broken the way to get tossed into bullet points:
  • When you win a game, gloat.
  • When you lose a game, whine & accuse the other player of cheating.
That's it. A steady diet of this behavior will have you on the outs in no time - and if they choose not to kick you out, they'll secretly detest your presence. Trust me on this one.

So, how did this pithy bit of wisdom end up here? Come on, if you're reading this blog, you have enough sense to come in out of the rain & enough smarts to figure out a metaphor when it bites you on the hind end.

Tonight - or possibly later - a number of candidates & propositions are going to win or lose. Some of you will be victorious in a battles you've fought with your keyboards & your hearts... others of you will know the stale taste of defeat - and you've fought just as hard as those who win.

Regardless (or is that "irregardless"?), you have the opportunity tonight to respond with grace & dignity.
  • If your side/candidate wins, don't gloat.
  • If your side/candidate loses, don't whine. Don't accuse others of cheating without real & obvious cause... using an actual standard of proof, not "Rush said it" or "somebody posted this on Facebook."
I want to speak specifically to those who declare themselves as followers of Christ. We have a huge responsibility tonight - if we're gonna call ourselves "biblical Christians", then we better live like it when it comes to election results.
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.

Yep, I started this mini-sermon by telling you how to get kicked out of a game group. That's the way I roll.

Thursday, November 01, 2012

#24: The Ares Project (Mark's 100 - 2012)

The Ares Project

Mark's Ranking
  • 2012: 24th
  • 2010: prior to publication
  • 2005: prior to publication
  • rank: 956
  • rating: 7.32
Print Status
  • in print
Why It's On The List
  • It's not an easy game to learn (there are some tricky interlocking systems), once you've got over the rules assimilation hump there's a fantastic game to explore. Players are asymmetrical factions in a war over a distant planet... any resemblance to the computer game Starcraft in play speed and/or theme is purely intentional.
Tips & Tricks:
  • It's going to take you 4-5 games to start to see the wide variety of ways you can use the various types of attacks to advance your progress in the game - hang with it! The "wow" factor the first time I figured out how to make a Raid turn the tide of battle was worth the price of admission.
  • The rules look worse than they are - follow the suggestion in there to play a "battle only" game so that the rest of the system doesn't overwhelm you.
  • Each faction has a distinctive feel & play style… but unlike Summoner Wars, the differences are so pronounced that each faction in The Ares Project has it’s own mini-rulebook. They produce & use power in different ways, have different units, modify those units with different kinds of cards… even create new units through various methods... please don't let that complexity keep you away from a tremendous game!