Tuesday, June 16, 2015

25 Wonderful Years: A Box Score

25 years ago (June 16th, 1990), I married Shari Jo Becknal. Right after giving my heart and life to Jesus Christ, it's the best decision I've made in my life. 

In those 25 years, we've experienced the following:

2 fantastic sons
  • Braeden
  • Collin

4 states lived in
  • Arkansas
  • Tennessee (twice)
  • California
  • Texas

7 cars
  • Honda Accord
  • Nissan Sentra
  • Honda Civic
  • Acura LX
  • Honda Odyssey
  • Chevy Malibu
  • Honda Civic

7 trips to Disney parks
  • Disneyland 1992
  • Walt Disney World 1996
  • Walt Disney World 2000
  • Disneyland 2003
  • Disneyland 2007
  • Disneyland 2008
  • Disneyland 2012

8 homes
  • the duplex in Fordyce, AR
  • the duplex in Inglewood, TN
  • the apartment in Antioch, TN
  • the house in Antioch, TN
  • the parsonage in Easton, CA
  • Mark’s house in Conroe, TX
  • Buster & Sheridyn’s house in Inglewood, TN
  • the duplex in Goodlettsville, TN

9 churches
  • Shady Oaks Baptist Church (Hurst, TX)
  • First Baptist Church (Fordyce, AR)
  • Dalewood Baptist Church (Inglewood, TN)
  • BCC (Bellevue, TN)
  • the church @ hickory hollow (Antioch, TN)
  • Fellowship Bible Church (Brentwood, TN)
  • NewLife Community Church (Easton, CA)
  • C3 (Conroe, TX)
  • Grace Church (Hendersonville, TN

13 jobs
  • youth minister (Fordyce)
  • substitute teacher (Fordyce)
  • youth pastor (Dalewood)
  • daycare driver (Hendersonville)
  • teacher (Wright Middle School)
  • church planter (tc@hh)
  • JC Penney (1997-98)
  • tutor (Sylvan Learning Center)
  • JC Penney (2002)
  • fulfillment warehouse
  • senior pastor (NewLife)
  • Legislative Information Services
  • Deputy Director (TDOE)

25 states visited
  • Alabama
  • Arizona
  • Arkansas
  • California
  • Colorado
  • Florida
  • Georgia
  • Illinois
  • Kentucky
  • Louisiana
  • Maryland
  • Missouri
  • Nevada
  • New Mexico
  • North Carolina
  • Ohio
  • Oklahoma
  • Oregon
  • South Carolina
  • Tennessee
  • Texas
  • Utah
  • Virginia
  • Washington
  • Wisconsin

Compiling a box score of our twenty-five years together is a lot of fun - especially for someone like me who tracks how many times he’s played each game. But it doesn’t begin to adequately describe the wonder & joy of spending literally half of my life with Shari Jo, the love of my life.

Besides, I’ve completely lost count of the number of times she's taken my breath away.

Five years ago, I wrote a blog post about our romance and wedding that I'd love for you to read - 20 Years ("It Did"). It's a perfect companion piece to this post.

Monday, June 15, 2015

The Lost World: Jurassic Park Game (Classic)

The Lost World Jurassic Park Game
  • designer: uncredited
  • publisher: Milton Bradley
  • date: 1996
  • BoardGameGeek rank/rating: 7266/5.84
  • age: 8+
  • # of players: 2-4
  • print status: OOP
You may or may not be a fan of the films - for the record, I really liked the first one, tolerated the second one, and ignored the third one - but if you like dinosaurs, you'll love the whole "run or be eaten" vibe that the game gives off. 

You'll also love the cool bits vibe as well - as you can see from the picture, the game has a number of cardboard buildings that you assemble & use for play. (Unusual for an American game - there's actually a diagram to show you how to get them all back in the box!) 

The game is pretty simple - the human player (or players) start with 12 people and are trying to get them across the ruined compound to the helicopter pad. (Three people escaped counts as a win.) The dinosaur player has a T-Rex & four 'raptors to chase down & eat the humans. Each team has a different set of dice for movement. One of the dice for each side is a "go/stop" dice - on a "go" roll, you do your move & then roll again. On a "stop" roll, your turn ends with this move. (There's a lot of complaining about this particular mechanic on the Geek - there are a couple of fixes posted in the forums there & both of them look like they'd work pretty well. It hasn't bothered us that much - it's just the way a dice-heavy game goes sometimes.) 

Players can hide in buildings - but there are ways for the raptors to jump in and eat everyone. Thankfully, raptors who get into buildings sometimes have a hard time getting out, which is good for the humans. There's no hiding in the start building, however - that's what the T-Rex is there to prevent. He rumbles forward during the early turns & when he arrives eats whoever is left in the building.

For the human player(s), it's a game of lunging forward to safe zones and hoping for streaky runs... while the dinosaur player usually ends up playing a combination of offense (sending raptors forward to snack on humans caught outside) and defense (keeping a raptor or two close to the helipad to pick up anyone who's trying to make an end run.)

It's not a particularly balanced game - again, something that bothers some folks over on the Geek. I think it's actually part of the charm of the game - the dinosaur player has a built-in advantage that makes this a great parent/kid game. In our case, Dad takes the humans & my son takes the dinos - I'm lucky to get 3 players out! (I have got as many as 5 and as few as, well, zero.)

Along the same lines, there's:

Jurassic Park III: Island Survival Game
  • designer: uncredited
  • publisher: Milton Bradley
  • date: 2001
  • BoardGameGeek rank/rating: 7179/5.88
  • age: 8+
  • # of players: 2-4
  • print status: OOP
Also unbalanced, but it works much better for 3 or 4 players. This time around, the dinosaur player is at a disadvantage. Still, a ton of fun in the box.

Avoid at all costs the Jurassic Park III: Spinosauras Chase game... blech. (There are actually 4 more licensed games for JP franchise - these are the only three I've played.)

This is an updated version of post that appeared a VERY long time ago on this blog... and which I've trotted back out in honor of Jurassic World. (No, I haven't seen any of the licensed games from the newest member of the franchise.)

Friday, June 12, 2015

#22: Big City (Mark's 100)

Big City

Mark's Ranking
  • 2014: 22nd
  • 2012: 33rd
  • 2010: 23rd
  • 2005: 22nd
  • appeared on all four lists
  • rank: 694
  • rating: 6.91
Print Status
  • very, very OOP
Why It's On The List
  • There have been a lot of attempts to make city-building games - but I think Big City still reigns supreme. Primarily, that's because of two things: lightning fast gameplay and unbelievably awesome plastic components.
Tips & Tricks:
    • You MUST play aggressively to win - manipulation of the streetcar line is particularly important. (We have, by the way, always used the "can only play off the ends of the streetcar line" variant - seems to make more sense thematically.)
    • The game allows you to see what neighborhood "deeds" your opponents are collecting - use that information to your benefit!
    • While the Shopping Center is a big point bump, the effort to "set the table" in order to build it can cost a number of unfruitful turns.
    • Sadly, Valley Games will not be reprinting Big City - or anything else for that matter. 
    • While components are provided for up to five players, I think the sweet spot for the game is 2-3 players. Four & five "work" just fine - but they are pretty chaotic. Two or three offers a nice level of control.
    •  Here's a pretty extensive post I wrote about Big City for my blog aka pastor guy (and which originally appeared on my Game Central Station website).
    • Here's what I wrote about Big City for The One Hundred.

    Tuesday, June 02, 2015

    Castle Panic: The Dark Titan (an expansion review)

    • the-dark-titan-3D-box-cover-artDesigner: Justin De Witt
    • Publisher: Fireside Games
    • Players: 1-6
    • Ages: 12+
    • Playing Time: 60 minutes
    Review by Mark Jackson on a review copy provided by Fireside Games (4 plays with The Dark Titan, 13 plays with The Wizard’s Tower, 11 plays with the base game alone)
    When last we left the heroes of Castle Panic, they were under siege from a torrent of new and more powerful monsters. Though ably assisted by a wizard (who insisted on having his own extra-tall tower with a forest view), things were getting pretty dicey for the good guys as the difficulty of defending the poorly-named castle was increased with each extra Mega-Boss.
    As is the way of all bureaucracies, there’s always somebody above you. In the case of the Mega-Bosses, it’s Agranok, The Dark Titan. (He likes it when his title is capitalized – it makes him feel all warm & fuzzy.) He has finally escaped from exile… and boy is he ticked about the lack of room service and other amenities in the Void.
    So, he’s replaced some of the weaker monsters with new Elite monsters (and one Boom Troll loaded with explosives)… and coupled with the Heralds of his arrival and his own innate abilities, the beleaguered castle faces an even greater foe. Thankfully, there are new resources for the heroes as well – if they can only get past the monsters laying siege to Castle Panic!

    It's a Sickness

    The Jackson family continues to love cooperative games – from the dexterity silliness of HABA’s Castle Knights to the theme-rich card play of Sentinels of the Multiverse, it’s a pretty decent chance that a cooperative game hits the table here on a regular basis. (I just counted – we have 29 different cooperative games/game systems in our collection. Yes, it’s possibly a sickness.)
    I liked the base game of Castle Panic – but I really thought that the Wizard’s Tower expansion kicked the game into high gear. (For more details on this, you can read my glowing review published here on the Opinionated Gamers back in the day.)
    So, what about The Dark Titan? The classic game expansion questions loom before us:
    -          What’s in the box?
    -          Is it any good?
    -          Does it “jump the shark”?
    -          Do I really need to own this?

    What’s In the Box?

    dark-titan-open-gameIt’s not a big box – but the folks at Fireside Games managed to pack in a selection of new monster & event “triangles”, as well as new cards for the base deck and the cards & pieces you need to face off against The Dark Titan himself, Agranok. (I’ll take a moment here to note that the monster/event tiles are not strictly triangles – drawing one of these in geometry class would not get you a passing grade – but “triangle” is the closest geometric figure I can come up with.)
    There’s also a rulebook, which does a nice job of explaining how to use the expansion with the base set or with both the base set & the Wizard’s Tower expansion. (Much like Wizard’s Tower, you’re going to be removing some of the tiles in order not to imbalance the game.)
    Our favorite new "hero helper" is The Cavalier - who can galavant about and sacrifice himself ("the needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few... or the one") to save the imperiled castle.
    And it all fits nicely in the base box along with the first expansion. (I hide the "abandoned" pieces under the box insert, just in case I ever decide to put them back in the game. I know, I know... I could end up on an episode of Hoarders.)

    Is it any good?

    Short Answer: Yes.
    Long Answer: Yes, as it gives you more balls to juggle (and/or tougher monsters to exterminate). And as far we can tell with four plays under our belt, it doesn’t throw the game out of balance.We’ve tried it with 2, 3, 4 and 6 players – and with Agranok set on Levels 1, 2 & 3 – and it worked well at all of those configurations. (Note: Agranok has 5 levels of difficulty… 6 if you count the promo card given out by Fireside Games. Pick your own level of nastiness – or let fate decide by shuffling them together.)

    Does it “jump the shark”?

    I don’t think so… while it adds some new wrinkles (in the form of new monsters & events), it doesn’t overburden the game system.My biggest concern when I unpacked the box was that Agranok would be so “big” that his appearance would unhinge the game in some way – a fear that proved to be false. (Of the four games we’ve played, our least stellar performance – a crushing loss – happened before the Dark Titan even reared his ugly head.)

    Do I really need to own this?

    Fireside Games Answer: Of course you do!
    Opinionated Gamers Answer: If you enjoy Castle Panic, this is a well-designed, good-looking expansion to the base game with or without the Wizard’s Tower. I don’t think it’s essential (counter-example: Core Worlds: Galactic Orders is an essential expansion) – but I’m very glad it’s part of my set. As well, The Dark Titan is inexpensive enough that I would buy a copy if Fireside Games hadn’t kindly provided one.
    As is typical of most expansion reviews, a caveat is in order: if you didn’t like Castle Panic to start with, The Dark Titan is unlikely to convince you to change your mind. On the other hand, fans of the game will find new challenges and interesting twists that don’t overwhelm the solid engine of the base game.
    To the walls! Never give up… never surrender!
    This review originally appeared on the Opinionated Gamers website.

    Monday, June 01, 2015

    #23: Expedition (Mark's 100 - 2014)


    Mark's Ranking
    • 2014: 23rd
    • 2012: 47th
    • 2010: 19th
    • 2005: 8th
    • appeared on all four lists
    • rank: 1014
    • rating: 6.90
    Print Status
    • back in print!
    Why It's On The List
    • I love the expedition mechanic at the heart of the game. There's nothing quite like it... (well, this isn't altogether true - but look in the Extras for more on that.)
    Tips & Tricks:
      • Hadn't thought about this until now, but three games on my top 100 list (Rum & PiratesAround the World in 80 Days and Expedition) all share a similar mechanic - a relatively scarce currency that aids you in game play and must be managed carefully.
      • Watch the number of arrows left in each expedition - other players can run them out to keep you from certain sections of the board.
      • There are a variety of options in how loops work - we like the "place anywhere on the loop" one - but you should give them all a try.
      • While the game will work with 2-6 players, it's best with 2-3.
      • The designer (Wolfgang Kramer) actually revised his classic Ravensburger game (Wildlife Adventure) which became Expedition - and then he gave it a big tweak and turned it into a children's game (Schatzsucher). Sadly, I haven't played either of  them..
      • There were some rules changes for National Geographic Expedition edition - I only played once but I didn't like them. Frustratingly, I don't remember what I didn't like!
      • There is a new version of Expedition entitled Expedition: Famous Explorers... I have not had the opportunity to play it - but that's the picture at the top of this post!
      • Here's what I wrote about Expedition for The One Hundred