Tuesday, December 04, 2018

Sheep Dog: An Open Letter to Pastors

Dear Pastor:

You are not the chief Shepherd. That job is already taken.

You are the sheep dog for your congregation - and you must do whatever the Good Shepherd tells you to do to take care of them. This may well include nipping at their heels... or throwing yourself in front of predators who seek to steal, kill & destroy. 

Listen for the Shepherd's voice... always. Listen like your life and the lives of those entrusted to you depend on it. They do.

And take care not to mistake your desire to be petted and fussed over for the voice of the Shepherd. It is far too easy to become the pet of the sheep you are called to love & protect. You should expect encouragement from the flock - but you can only depend on the words that come from the Shepherd's mouth.

You are part of a glorious heritage of sheep dogs - some who became famous, while others toiled in obscurity. Recognition of your faithfulness and skills may not be forthcoming in these pastures... but that should not change your diligence or your work ethic.

Sometimes, you will run hard to stay ahead of the flock, guiding them as the Shepherd leads. At other moments, you will wait - wait for His command, wait as the sheep find their way, wait because activity will cause more problems than it will solve. Both the working and the waiting are profitable, if they are done under the Shepherd's guidance.

And, some time in the future, you will no longer work the fields, but instead enter into a well-deserved rest before the fire and the words of the Shepherd: "That'll do. That'll do."

May you make much of Jesus,

Mark Jackson

John 10:10-15
John 15:14
1st Samuel 23:1-6
2nd Timothy 4:3-5
Hebrews 11
Psalm 27:14
Matthew 25:21

Tuesday, November 13, 2018

Mark's Bundle of 2018 Essen Game Thoughts

Had the wonderful opportunity this last weekend to play a BUNCH of the new Essen releases... what follows is my "quick takes" on the 25 games I played.


Marble Bobsleigh: Silly but quite enjoyable real-time marble racing game - improved by having a crowd of people around to cheer & laugh. Players blow their marbles down the track - but not too hard, or they'll "crash". I don't need to own it, but I'll gladly play it as a late-night closer.

Trapwords: What if you made Taboo more difficult...? Well, that's what CGE did with Trapwords. The clue-giving rules are even nitpick-ier than Codenames, but with the right crowd (and we had the right crowd), it was a lot of fun. I'm afraid, however, that this one could flop with the wrong group. (The box does contain a wider variety of "map" tiles which can make the game easier - with kids and with folks who don't normally play word games, I'd start out with the "1" or "2" tile.)


Blackout: Hong Kong: Nicely crunchy Euro with some thematic tie-in (especially on the objective cards). The puzzling out of how to play your cards for maximum effect was really interesting. We played a 4 player game with newbies in 2 hours (not including rules). I really liked it... but I'd avoid like the plague with anyone with AP tendencies.

Western Legends: The game system works - turns are quick and players have lots of opportunities to do Western-y things. Billy the Kid trying to rob the same bank 6 times and only succeeding twice got funnier & funnier with each attempt. However, I think there are serious balance issues - this lovely looking game has the feel of something that was playtested by a small group of folks. 18 year old me would have eaten this up with a spoon; 54 year old me was glad for a chance to play but probably wouldn't make time for it again.

Gingerbread House: I hadn't heard much about this before seeing it - but it's a nicely produced building/collecting game - as you are witches using your ever-expanding gingerbread house to lure unsuspecting fairy tale creatures in for points & glory (and dinner). Very enjoyable in just under an hour with four players - and it looks like it would scale nicely. (This was one of the games that got positive marks from pretty much everyone who played it this weekend.)

7 Wonders: Armada: As others have said, this could well be the best 7W expansion yet. After one play (where I came in last), I think it would combine REALLY well with Cities to make a slightly longer but very enjoyable "epic" game. It's on my must-buy list - but no one is surprised by that, since I own all of the previous expansions.

Cryptid: I’m not a deduction game fan – but this scratched more of a Tobago itch than a Black Vienna itch. We played the basic version - there's a tougher setting that might have made my brain melt. Another one of the “don’t need to own but wouldn’t refuse to play” games.

Black Skull Island: Imagine if someone played Coup and thought “What this needs is more randomness and pirates.” The nicest thing I can say is that it functionally works as a game. Not recommended.

Blode Kuh: Very light family card game about passing the pain (in the form of increasingly shaggy-looking animals) around the table. (Seriously, the sheep looks like he’s been living in the gutter on the bad side of the farm.) Lots of laughs and a perfect choice for playing with non-gamer family over the holidays.

Shadows: Amsterdam: A real-time team vs. team puzzle, using pictures as clues for other pictures (spaces on the board). Enjoyable for a play, but I don’t need to play it again.

Fine Sand: Played two games using the solo mode – seemed to work just fine but I had trouble seeing from the rules where there would be much more game by adding more players to the table. It’s a Fable game (which I usually like), but my limited look at it feels like the base game is a little thin to hang a longer series of games on…


Monster Lands: Dice/worker placement game that is dripping with fantasy combat theme – a little rules heavy but much fun was had. However, our first 4 player game ran 2 ½ hours, which is too long for what it is. (I had similar issues with Roll Player – another nicely thematic game with “when does this finally wind down?” issues.) There’s a clear end to the game – but it took us a while to get there. I’d like to try this again with 3 players, which would cut down on the playing time.

Sunflower Valley: Simple family-oriented roll’n’write. I’d play it again but I don’t need to own it.

Concordia: Venus: I can’t compare it to Concordia… because I’d never played Concordia before. (I know, I know… revoke my cool kid gamer card for missing a very good Euro game.) I really liked this version of the game – it reminded me of a more fleshed-out take on Eminent Domain: Microcosm, a little 2-player card game that I’m a big fan of. (We did not play the “team variant”, which is evidently a big selling point for the Venus expansion.)

Lighthouse Run: Pretty game of sailboat racing – reminiscent of Selecta’s Viva Topo, except there’s a storm cloud rather than a cat. Perfectly playable, but a big tricky for younger kids due to moving around the beacons. It would be a difficult game for parents and older siblings not to run over younger children.

Luxantis: HABA uses an LED-loaded board to create a “maze” game of sorts – actually a cooperative adventure. We had a great time with it – there are different ways to adjust difficulty, though I think the rules could be clearer about how shadow creatures move on the castle board. If my boys were still young, I’d buy this in a heartbeat.

Walls of York: Nice bits, playable game – but I don’t need to play it again. The idea is clever – but the game itself doesn’t really go anywhere interesting. (And, once again, there are some unclear rules – come on, people, rules need playtesting as well as the game.)

Raccoon Tycoon: Massively over-produced… and yet, this was actually quite enjoyable. Turns are quick and there are a number of ways to work to acquire cash, resources and victory points. The buildings are extremely powerful – and the order in which they come out will affect the path of each game. (Another “should have been fixed in playtesting” gripe – the text on the chunky & attractive building tiles often needs clarification in the rulebook. They act in some ways that are non-intuitive.) I did not expect to enjoy this as much as I did.

Astro Drive: Fast moving space race that would easily fit in a backpack and can be played on a small table… and actually has some fun things going for it. It plays in less than half an hour and still offers a number of chances for clever decisions. Wish they’d added a “what does this space do?” cheat sheet apart from the rulebook, but it’s not that difficult to remember all of the various dangers.

KeyForge: Played for the first time with two decks that weren’t starters… and was pleasantly surprised that the game seems reasonably balanced and had lots of opportunities for clever play. A concern if I were getting into KeyForge purchasing: I wouldn’t want to get decks that were similar in composition – I’d like to make sure I have variety IF I was going to go down this particular gaming rabbit hole.


Neom: played 3 times in one day... 1 solo & twice w/4 players. This is a really enjoyable blending of 7 Wonders drafting and Suburbia-ish city-building. Different strategies work... there doesn’t seem to be a “best” way to approach the game. The iconography is pretty clear - except for the Cornerstone tiles, which are drafted at the start of the game and are all unique. A player aid would have been helpful... or at least a separate folio with the explanations so the back of the rule book doesn’t have to be passed around. All that said, I’ve had fun each time I played and look forward to playing again. 

Scorpius Freighter: This should have been the licensed game that went with the Firefly franchise... it’s a tightly designed game with three cleverly disguised rondels for picking actions. While the theme is somewhat abstracted by the design, the artwork and really nice production carries the day. It ran a little long on our first 4 player game... but I think this will end up being a 90 minute game for 4 once everyone has a game under their belt. It also looks like it will scale well for 2 or 3. 

Horizons: More science fiction theming... but it’s pretty much a complicated way to build an area control game. I won by pushing the timer hard. The UI has issues- players all need to be able to see top cards of five alien piles as well as those cards in front of other players and the thematic art eats up too much real estate on the cards to make that possible. I don’t need to play it again. 


AuZtralia: I don't usually love Martin Wallace's game designs... and I'm rather tired of people pasting on Cthulu themes. And yet, there's actually a really good game here about the Old Ones hiding out in the Australian outback, fighting against the encroaching colonists and their farms. Note: it's helpful to have some idea of what the Old Ones might choose to do (the Revelation cards) before you start playing - high-level baddies spawning on temples played havoc with our strategic plans.

Fast Forward: Fortune: Just got about 1/3 of the way through the deck in our first set of plays - it reminds me of Flee, which was our favorite of the first crop of Fast Forward games, so that's a positive. 

Monday, November 05, 2018

30 Years Ago - "You Belong With Me"

Thirty years ago, I took this cute girl from our college Bible study group out to see Tim Miner in concert at Footloose. 

Glossary for those not from the 80s and familiar with CCM
  • Tim Miner... incredibly talented "white soul" Christian artist who had put out one of the more groove-heavy albums of late 80s CCM
  • Footloose... a Christian "nightclub" in the Dallas/Fort Worth area (basically, just down the freeway from the airport) 
  • Tim Miner AT Footloose... since his home church was in Rockwall, TX (just an hour or so away), he had a full band and dancers... it was an awesome show
That cute girl said "yes" to a second date... and then there was the dating... and then, a little over a year later, she said "yes" to marrying me... and the love of my life really is the love of my life. 

But since this was originally intended to be a part of my "Christian Music From the 80s That Is Still Good" series of posts, I give you "our song" - from one of the more iconoclastic CCM artists ever, Tonio K. I put it on a mixtape for Shari Jo - and it still makes me smile every time I hear it.

For 80s music fans, the female vocalist with Tonio is Maria McKee (from Lone Justice). And there's a great article about the Romeo Unchained album here.

Two o'clock
The moon is down
We say goodnight
You're headed for bed across town
We haven't even known each other that long
But it doesn't even matter
When you leave it feels all wrong

You belong with me
Darlin' we belong together
And every time you leave
It's obvious we're still connected
You live in your world
And I live in mine
But the collision of worlds is just a matter of time
You belong with me

Now I can tell
You're so afraid
You've been lied to and taken for granted
And treated like some kind of slave
I'm not after your freedom, i'm after your heart
And I know it's gonna happen
And I knew it from the start

What happens to people in love is some kind of mystery
But what passes for love on the streets these days is a joke
So when people like us finally stumble into each other
We've got to hold on tight and never let go

Thursday, November 01, 2018

Hail & Well Met, Fellow Survivor Fans!

I used to describe myself as a "Johnny-come-lately" to Survivor... but the painful reality is that I've watched every season live since Season 10 (Palau)... so I guess I'm an old hand now.

Old enough, anyway, to follow Andy and his reality blurred site - and when he asked for input on the current season, I dutifully shot off an email to him that he quoted in yesterday's article: Why is the Survivor David vs Goliath cast so likable & fun?
1. They are interesting people – not just types. Examples: The wrestler (John) is self-aware & not just playing a character, evidenced by his delightful conversation with Christopher about Slamtown and hiring practices. The ex-cheerleader (Kara) has a meaningful faith that created a bond with another player and scared Natalie enough to behave badly & tank her game. She’s not just a cheerleader. Christopher is a nerd/geek… but w/real people skills and an amazing level of empathy.
2. There doesn’t seem to be a lot of “playing for the camera”—whether that’s a function of the weather conditions or something else, I’m not sure. But the focus has been on the game and relationships, and I’m enjoying it!
For the record, nothing that happened last night changed my mind about any of this... in fact, it seems like we have less self-serving interviews and more glimpses into camp life and relationships - so I missed #3... a better job of editing the show.

And, because it wouldn't be a Survivor old-timer post without it:
  • I'm Team Boston Rob NOT Team Evil Russell
  • My favorite winner is actually Yul Kwon (who had a really cool PBS series on the technology grid some years back)
  • I've gone back and watched all of the seasons I've missed except Amazon, Marquesas & Thailand

Friday, October 26, 2018

"The Lust, The Flesh, The Eyes & The Pride Of Life"

Today's entry in my "Still Relevant After All These Years" tour of 1980s CCM (that's Contemporary Christian Music for those not steeped in the evangelical subculture) is less political and more personal.

I actually traded a Sandi Patti Live album for The 77s first album (Ping Pong Over the Abyss)... but "The Lust, The Flesh, The Eyes & The Pride Of Life" is from their third album. (And the version I know & love is the demo version from Sticks & Stones.)

Anyway, this song kicks my butt every time I listen to it.

Well, I feel
Like I have to feel
Something good all of the time
With most of life I cannot deal
But a good feeling I can feel
Even though it may not be real
And if a person, place or thing can deliver
I will quiver with delight
But will it last me for all my life
Or just one more lonely night

The lust, the flesh
The eyes
And the pride of life
Drain the life
Right out of me

Well, I see something and I want it
Bam! Right now!
No questions asked
Don't worry how much it costs me now or later
I want it and I want it fast
I'll go to any length
Sacrifice all that I already have
And all that I might get
Just to get
Something more that I don't need
And Lord, please don't ask me what for

The lust, the flesh
The eyes
And the pride of life
Drain the life
Right out of me

And I love when folks
Look right at me
And what I'm doing
Or have done
And lay it on about
How groovy I am
And that I'm looking grand
And every single word
Makes me think I'll live forever
Never knowing that they probably
Won't remember what they said tomorrow
Tomorrow I could be dead

The lust, the flesh
The eyes
And the pride of life
Drain the life
Right out of me

Thursday, October 25, 2018

"Save Me"

When I first purchased Rich's self-titled debut album, I was disappointed. His voice was odd, the lyrics kind of tumbled out and were sandwiched into musical phrases that felt too short... but, because it was the days of cassette tapes & I had a player in my car, I kept playing it each morning on the way to work. 
And then on the way back home.

And the music and lyrics grew on me...  and ended up being a soundtrack for a good chunk of my spiritual life.

"Save Me" is yet another 30+ year old CCM song that remains incredibly relevant today.

Save me save me
Save me from my contempt for the things that make me strong
Save me from any value I could put a price tag on
Save me from Soviet propagandists
Lord save me from Washington
Please save me Lord save me

Save me save me
Save me from the slick pop sounds
Laid down in virgin vinyl grooves
Save me from any woman who would be turned
On to the aftershave I use
Save me from trendy religion that makes
Cheap cliches out of timeless truths
Lord save me please save me
Save me

Wednesday, October 24, 2018

"It's A Personal Thing"

This Steve Taylor classic was originally released in 1985. For a 33 year old song, it doesn't seem like it's aged a day.

Steve commented in his fan club newsletter back in the mid-80s: "["It's A Personal Thing"] takes as its inspiration the large number of public figures who separate their personal beliefs from their politics, and are thus able to display a virtuosity at talking out of both sides of the mouth that can usually be accomplished only by glueing the middle part of one's lips together."

The more things change, the more they stay the same.

The Press Conference

It's a personal thing, and I find it odd
You would question my believing in a personal God
I'm devout, I'm sincere, ask my mother if you doubt it
I'm religious, but I'd rather not get radical about it

The old-time believers had timidity and grace
But this new generation doesn't know its place
You're entitled to believe, but the latest Gallup Poll
Says you mustn't interfere--that's the government's role

'Cause when you throw your hat in the bullring
Before you know know know it's a personal thing
And when he comes to the day of reckoning
He's gonna tell 'em, "uh, uh, uh, it's a personal thing"

The Nomination Speech

It's a personal thing, and I boldly state
That my views on morality will have to wait
'Til my personal life's out of the public eye
And the limitations statue can protect my alibi

I'm devout, I'm sincere, and I'm proud to say
That it's had exactly no effect on who I am today
I believe for the benefit of all mankind
In the total separation of church and mind

'Cause when you throw your hat in the bullring
Before you know know know it's a personal thing
And when he comes to the day of reckoning
He's gonna tell 'em, "uh, uh, uh, it's a personal thing"

The Victory Night

It's a personal thing, and I plainly speak
(From the same code of ethics that I held last week)
As I promised if elected this election day
With the help of God almighty, I'll do it my way

'Cause when you throw your hat in the bullring
Before you know know know it's a personal thing
And when he comes to the day of reckoning
He's gonna say, "back off, buddy, it's a personal thing"

Tuesday, October 16, 2018


Some thoughts flowing from last Sunday's message at Restoration Church...

Pain, suffering & heartache will be part of the rhythms of life for every follower of Christ. Jesus prepares us for this in John 16:1...
“I have told you these things so that you will not stumble or be caught off guard and fall away.” (John 16:1 AMP)
I should not be surprised when life is difficult - when my expectations of God as a cosmic concierge are thwarted.

True religion is not about a smooth stroll through life. Jesus is not a steamroller crushing the sharp-edged obstacles in our way.
“Life is pain, Highness! Anyone who says otherwise is selling something.” (The Princess Bride)
The answer to a broken world is not a heavenly fixer... it is an Advocate who brings peace that transcends circumstances. 
“Peace I leave with you; My [perfect] peace I give to you; not as the world gives do I give to you. Do not let your heart be troubled, nor let it be afraid. [Let My perfect peace calm you in every circumstance and give you courage and strength for every challenge.]” (John 14:27 AMP)
And that peace doesn’t come like a weighted blanket or a cup of cocoa (with little marshmallows). It floods in as the Holy Spirit enters into our lives.
“When he comes, he will convince the world of the meaning of sin, of true goodness and of judgment. He will expose their sin because they do not believe in me; he will reveal true goodness...” (John 16:5 PHILLIPS)
My prayer:

Jesus, dwell in me... rather than letting me choose to dwell in a Christian bubble. Remind me over & over about my need for you... as if I were a distracted child - because, if I'm honest, I am a distracted child. Calm my heart with Your presence; help me to stop relying on perfect circumstances to experience peace. Call to mind the truth that permeates Scripture - that the love of God does not equal a life of ease. Give me a heart that beats with the truth... a heart that longs for more of You rather than just "more".
“I have told you all this so that you may find your peace in me. You will find trouble in the world—but, never lose heart, I have conquered the world!”John 16:33 PHILLIPS

Wednesday, September 12, 2018

Truth or Fiction: The Closet

I found this post when I was hunting for things I'd written about 9/11... and realized I wanted to post it again with some revisions. 

As a kid, I was deathly afraid of my closet. I was afraid of other things, too: the dark, being beat up, giving a wrong answer in class, etc., but nothing trumped the abject terror I felt when I forgot to slide the closet door closed before I went to bed.

This was the kind of paralyzing fear where you try to yell but your voice won't work... where your imagination fills in all the details of what might lurk in behind the hanging clothes & piled-up toys and games. Once in a while, I could force myself to get out of bed and close the door, but many times I would just lay still on my bed, fixating on the shadows & the darkness.

Of course, there was nothing in my closet except boxes full of construction toys and scads of games. (Yes, even then.) :-) There was no secret entrance to my closet... it actually backed up on the bathroom my sister & I shared.

In other words, my fears had nothing to do with reality.


After September 11th, 2001, thousands of people in this country swore off airplanes and began driving cars, apparently believing that cars are safer. In fact, the number of deaths on U.S. highways in a typical year - more than 40,000 - is more than double the number of people who have died in all commercial airplane accidents in the past 40 years. To put it differently, the odds of being killed in a terrorist incident in 2002 were 1 in 9 million. In that same year, the odds of dying in a traffic accident were about 1 in 7,000. By taking the precaution of not flying, many people died.

Anne Applebaum, "Finding Things To Fear" (Washington Post 9/24/03) - quoted in Marc Siegel's book, False Alarm: The Truth About The Epidemic of Fear

Marc Siegel goes through one major "false alarm" after another: terrorism, anthrax, SARS, bird flu, etc., suggesting over & over that while there is a possibility of these things affecting our lives, the vast majority live with fear way out of proportion with the actuality of the threat.

In other words, our fears have little to do with reality.


So, when it comes to what we believe about Jesus, how does this fear-laden balancing act between truth & fiction play out? Again, I'll just pick one point this week and "land on it."

We are inappropriately afraid of other people's unbiblical behavior. Let me explain... we expend incredible amounts of time, energy & effort to convince and/or force non-believers around us to knuckle under to our moral practices. When those efforts are unsuccessful (and they almost always are), we then retreat in a hypocritical game of tightrope walking between the cultural enticements of the world and the safe companionship of those who appear to have it "together" spiritually. We'll take in media with questionable content, but excuse it because "we feel bad about it." We'll talk endlessly about "winning the world for Jesus", but never actually spend time with people who are struggling with questions about faith & life.

This was not the way Jesus lived!

How can I account for this generation? The people have been like spoiled children whining to their parents, "We wanted to skip rope, and you were always too tired; we wanted to talk, but you were always too busy." John came fasting and they called him crazy. I came feasting and they called me a lush, a friend of the riff-raff. Opinion polls don't count for much, do they? The proof of the pudding is in the eating.

Matthew 11:16-19 (The Message)

This is the same guy who asked woman with 5 ex-husbands & a live-in lover for a drink of water; the same guy who went toe-to-toe with demon-possessed people. Jesus populated his band of closest followers with anger-driven hotheads, a political nutjob, a greedy thief, a Roman sympathizer, and some guys that the fish smell was never going to wash off of.

So, how do we close the door to our bedroom closet? How do we turn off our "false alarm"?

  • Resort to prayer for a heart that loves people like Jesus loves us.
  • Rearrange our lives to spend time with people who need Him.
  • Refocus our energy on making healthy, Biblical choices for ourselves, rather than policing the rest of the world.

It's not going to be easy... and chances are we're going to make some mistakes along the way.

But it will sure beat living in fear.

A version of this article originally appeared in the 3/9/06 issue of the Grapevine, the newsletter of NewLife Community Church.

Wednesday, August 01, 2018

First Impressions - A Primer for Convention Going Gamers on the Eve of GenCon 2018

I'll keep this short, sweet and to the point.

Chances are excellent that your first impressions of the games you play over the next few days (for those of you attending GenCon) will be skewed.

Note: I didn't say "wrong"... I said "skewed".

Here's some of the ways that your view of these games can be "through a glass darkly" rather than "face to face". (Sly Pauline reference for my friends out there in Bibleland.)
  1. Nice people showing you the game - it's easy to confuse your warm interaction with the designer, publisher or volunteer with the actual quality of the game you're being shown.
  2. There are only X copies available - every once in a great while, a game you really love will only be published in small quantities and will require you to jump on it immediately. But the vast majority of the time, if it's worth owning, there will be more available later.
  3. Have to be the first guy on my block! - related to #2, but with the added pressure of being the cool kid who buys all the new hotness. Remember, just because it's new doesn't mean it's good. 
  4. Chronological snobbery - related to #3... new stuff isn't automatically awesome (Cult of the New "beer goggles") nor is it automatically a derivative pallid imitation of a classic (Cult of the Long-Suffering Curmudgeon).
  5. Playing with the wrong rules - long the bane of all convention plays... and even if you aren't playing a booth demo. Wrong rules can cause you to think a diamond is a piece of coal.
  6. Playing with the wrong people - I hated my first game of RA. Due to a particular AP-prone player, it lasted over an hour and a half. When I (much later) finally got to play it in 35-45 minutes, I fell in love. Moral of the story: keep in mind who you are playing/demoing with - the objective is to get the feel of the game, not turn it into a competition to find the winning strategy.
  7. Blinded by the bits - attractive components have managed to cover over a multitude of game design "sins" over the years. Just because it has cool minis does not mean there's a healthy game system under all that plastic.
  8. Other people think it's cool - the BGG Hotness and convention buzz is interesting, but it can be misleading. And, let's be honest - every gamer doesn't love the same things about board games. 
All that said, don't let my "sage advice" deter you from demoing, playing, buying and enjoying games you find at GenCon (or any con, for that matter). Just remember that your first impression may or may not be your long-term verdict on a particular game.

Monday, June 25, 2018

When I'm Right

I knew I was in the right
I was right
And that rightness gave me boldness

To do wrong
To treat another person
To treat someone created in God’s image
With callous disregard

I poured out my righteous anger
I let my frustration boil over
I made choices
Choices to spew hatred
Choices to belittle and demean

But I was right
And isn’t that enough?
Isn’t that permission
No, obligation
To use
Any means necessary?

Image bearers be damned
I was right
The Golden Rule
Can be brushed away
When I’m right

My actions are justified
They would have done the same
Or worse
I am vindicated

Or am I?
What if in my rightness
I did wrong?

Saturday, February 10, 2018

Five Years

Little did I know when I stood up
Lego Hero Factory figure in hand
My Bible open and my notes beside
That this would be it

I thought I knew what God was doing
I thought I knew what God should do
I was wrong
On both counts

Knowing I’m in the right place now
Doesn’t make the loss any smaller
I miss preaching
I miss teaching

But Jesus is still here
In the middle of my struggles
I am not alone
I am not alone

My primary identity is not
Invested in a paid ministry role
Or a title of respect
Or time behind a pulpit

I am a child of God
I am a minister of the Gospel
In my office cubical
Or playing a board game

Jesus is still here
In the midst of my questions
I am not alone
I am not alone 

The last time I preached a sermon was Feb. 10, 2013 at Easton Presbyterian Church. 

Thursday, January 25, 2018

Prayer - Remembering tc@hh

20 years ago today, a group of 7 of us held the first public service of the church @ hickory hollow (otherwise known as tc@hh). Not quite five years later, we closed the doors on this wonderful experiment/experience of faith.

Lakeview Elementary School (pictured here) was our home for the majority of the five years. Our bigger "home" was South Gate Baptist Church, who supported us and loved us.

The prayer that follows was written by Dennis Mills and was shared as a part of the closing celebration service on September 21st, 2002.


This evening, as we celebrate the church @ hickory hollow,
we celebrate You because

You made it possible for us to have authentic Biblical community.
You gave the original vision for a church of this kind in Nashville.
You enabled this church to begin and take root, even though we had little more than a direction to go and an urgency to go there.
You brought together people like me who were tired of hiding behind masks and longed to know more of You.
You gave us a safe place to express how we hurt and struggle.
You gave us each other to carry our burdens, to share our hopes, and to celebrate our joys.

But most of all You drew us closer to You, to live more fully and to grow more deeply than we've ever dared before.

We've seen You do so much in and through the people of this church;
Which makes us all the more perplexed why You seem to see fit that this church should disband.
We don't understand. 
We don't know what lies ahead for us.

Calm us, Father, because sometimes we grow anxious and worry.
Steady us when our faith wavers.
Strengthen our hearts, because when things are uncertain it's easier to doubt and fear than to trust.
Father, protect our tender roots as You replant us into new soil.
Hold each one of us close to You. Let no one be forgotten or neglected.
Help us to tune out the noise in our lives so we can hear Your soft, gentle voice.

We can't see where You're leading us, but we count on You to take us there.

Thank You for Your undying love for us.
Thank You for community and for families that model our love relationship with You.
Thank You for forgiveness and for restoration.
Thank You for giving our lives meaning and purpose.
Thank You for the promise of eternal life.

Help us to share the hope of restored life today and eternal life after death with those who do not yet know You.

God, You are our everything.
We thank You
And we praise You
In Your Son's name,

Wednesday, January 24, 2018

Flamme Rouge & Peloton (Board Game Review)

  • Designer: Asger Harding Granerud
  • Publishers: Lautapelit.fi & Stronghold Games
  • Players: 2-4
  • Time: 30-45 minutes
  • Ages: 8+
  • Games Played: 12 with the base game, 4 with the Peloton expansion (with review copies provided by Stronghold Games)

My ability to speak French is nicht sehr guht. Yes, I know that’s German, because that’s a language which I can (barely) speak/read. Which leads me to the beginning of this review.

I’m not sure how I’m supposed to say the name of this game.

I’ve been calling if “flaw-may rouge”… but then I hear Stephen Buonocore (the English publisher) call it “flaw-mmm rouge”… and as I noted a couple of paragraphs above, I don’t know enough about French to hazard a guess which is correct. I feel like a tourist that doesn’t know how to find los baño. (And that’s Spanish – which my vast knowledge of consists primarily of curse words and food items.)

Regardless of how you say the name, Flamme Rouge is an excellent game that occupies a particular niche in my game collection: sports games that capture the feel of the sport without being simulations.

“Three – is a magic number.”

My personal theory is that there are three basic types of sports games:

Simulations – games that use real-life player/team statistics to simulate classic sporting contests, entire seasons, and/or “what if?” match-ups. Some games that fit into this bucket include:

  • Dynasty League Baseball/Pursue the Pennant
  • Decathlon (Avalon Hill)
  • Bowl Bound and Paydirt

Representations – games that use some level of statistics, strategies and history of the sport in question to create (or re-create) games and/or seasons. Some game that fit into this bucket include:

  • March Madness
  • Soccer Tactics
  • Pizza Box Football
  • 1st & Goal

“Feel All the Feels” – games that manage to capture the feeling of the sport without relying on statistic-based simulation… or sometimes even a clear representation of the actual sporting event. Some games that fit into this bucket include:

  • Harry’s Grand Slam Baseball
  • StreetSoccer
  • En Garde (Knizia)

It will be no surprise to my gentle readers that I’m a big fan of Bucket #3. (For the record, I’d throw Snow Tails, DownForce and Winner’s Circle into de derde emmer – Dutch for “the third bucket”. I’m a veritable linguist today.)

But a great sports game experience can come from any of the three types – one of my favorite gaming memories is playing Dynasty League Baseball and Pizza Box Football on the same night with a crew of sports/board game fans at Gulf Games.

Still, when I’m choosing a sports game to play, more often than not I’ll choose something simple yet evocative… like Flamme Rouge.

“I Want To Ride My Bicycle, I Want To Ride My Bike…”

One of the first games I bought from directly from Germany back in the late ‘90s was the 1992 Spiel des Jahres winner, Um Reifenbreite (which loosely translates as “By the Width of a Tire”).

The description on The Game Cabinet (which was the landing page for board game geeks before BGG appeared) had me practically salivating… so I ponied up the big bucks to have the team from Funagain Games scour the used game stalls at Essen to find me a copy. And, true to their word, they did.

Um Reifenbreite uses a combination of roll’n’move with card play (to simulate pushes to the front or climbing ability) along with a random event card to evoke the feel of team cycling. Each player has four cyclists and they can draft off other riders as they race around the board. The board design allows for four different races (two shorter, two longer) that can be chained together into a series of stages for a “Tour de Spelrum”. (The last phrase – “Tour de Game Room” – is brought to you by the mashup of French & Swedish – let’s call it Swench. Or Frendish. You pick.)

I have few complaints about Um Reifenbreite – it’s been in my top 20 games for nearly two decades. Probably my own concern is how difficult it is to get to the table – due in part to the cartoonish French art style and the roll’n’move nature of the game.

“Whenever I see an adult on a bicycle, I do not despair for the human race.”

Fast forward to Essen 2016… and the nice folks from Lautapelit.fi in Finland released Flamme Rouge. (Ok, kids, say Terveydeksi! to our Nordic friends…) Seeing pictures (and positive reviews) from the folks across the briny blue just made me want to play Um Reifenbreite again.

That is, until I had the opportunity to play Flamme Rouge – and suddenly all of the “thumbs up” noise began to make sense.

The game itself is a model of streamlined design – the rules only take four pages, and that includes the cover & components list. Players start by choosing a track from a selection of six different tracks and then build it in the center of the table. (You can, of course, build it on the edge of the table… heck, march to the beat of a different drummer. But if you’re playing at my house, it goes in the center of the table.) The track itself is a series of double-sided straights, gentle curves and right angle curves.

After placing their two riders in the starting grid, the race begins. Players have two decks of cards, one for each racer – a rouleur (I call him “mountain guy”) and a sprinter. Simultaneously, players choose one of their two decks and draw a hand of four movement cards – then they choose one and place the other three under that deck face up. Then the player does the same with the other deck, leaving them with two cards ready to play.

When all players are ready, they turn over their cards and resolve movement in order from the front to the back of the racers. Cyclists may move through other riders but cannot stop on a full space (one with two riders). After all the riders have moved, drafting is calculated, starting at the back of the pack and moving forward – any group of cyclists who have exactly one space between them and the next group slide up a space to close the gap. When all movement and drafting are taken care of, the lead cyclists in each group have to take an exhaustion card and add it to their discards at the bottom of your deck.

There are a couple of twists – there is no drafting when going uphill (and your maximum speed is 5). By the same token, your minimum speed if you start on a downhill slope is 5, regardless of which card you play.

The first rider to cross the finish line wins the game for his team. If multiple riders cross in the same turn, the one who goes the farthest first wins.

“Nothing compares to the simple pleasure of riding a bike.”

As I finish typing up this description, I’m reminded of one of the many reasons I love this game: it is unbelievably easy to teach. While folks have varied in their ability to figure out winning tactics, no one has come away frustrated that the game was too difficult to comprehend.

Another element I love is the way in which these simple rules create a game that “feels” like team cycling. I’ll admit I was skeptical – what with my deep love for Um Reifenbreite – about a team cycling game with only two cyclists… but much like StreetSoccer’s five player game of fußball, Flamme Rouge manages to capture the ethos without getting bogged down by fleshing out a full cycling team. There are attempts to break from the pack, lagging to conserve energy, blocking to hold back leaders, slow starts, fast starts, breakdowns due to exhaustion… it’s all there.

Flamme Rouge is also a quick game – once everyone has a game under their collective belts, races should clock in at about 30 minutes. There is an unofficial iOS app that allows groups to create stage race series if you want to link races together – but the game works just fine playing stand-alone races.

“Life is like a 10-speed bicycle. Most of us have gears we never use.”

Flamme Rouge is best with 4 players, though it works very well with 3. Two players is fine – but you really need more riders on the track to get the full feel of the game.

The Peloton expansion was released last month at Essen and it adds the ability to play with 5 or 6 players… something I’m looking forward to greatly. (Stronghold Games will be bringing the expansion over in early 2018.)
Special content just for readers of aka pastor guy: Since I wrote this review in late 2017, I was sent a copy of the Peloton expansion and have been able to play it 4 times. It not only adds riders for 5 or 6 players, but also includes ways to create "dummy" teams, adds cobblestones, supply zones & additional track layouts, and even includes suggestions for playing with up to 12 players! 
We've enjoyed it immensely - the game runs slightly longer with more players but it is still has the same quick-playing cycling feel. The cobblestone sections are evil... very tight and tough to pass. Decisions on when to strike out for the front are even more important since the track can get clogged.  
We now return you to the previously published review of Flamme Rouge... note: a full review of Peloton is in the works!
We’ve played all of the official track configurations in the game – and the only one we’re unlikely to play again is La Haut Montagne. (Reason: it ends with an uphill climb – which is would be fine in a stage race situation but is a little anti-climactic when you’re playing one-off races.)

“Learn to ride a bicycle. You will not regret it if you live.”

While Flamme Rouge has not replaced Um Reifenbreite in my collection, it has hit the table over and over throughout 2017. The short playing time is certainly a factor – and as we get to add the Peloton expansion, it will be suitable for a wider variety of player counts. So with the attractive production (we love the cyclist pawns), the variable tracks, the easy-to-learn rules and the excellent fit between theme and gameplay, this is a winner – a maillot jaune. (I couldn’t end this review without one more linguistic bon mot – ok, make it two.)

Quote References (in order of appearance)

  • Schoolhouse Rock, “3 is a Magic Number”
  • Queen, “Bicycle Race”
  • H.G. Wells
  • John F. Kennedy
  • Charles M. Schultz
  • Mark Twain

A Trio of Extra Cycling Quotes for Your Enjoyment

  • “Melancholy is incompatible with bicycling.” — James E. Starrs, US book editor
  • “The bicycle is the noblest invention of mankind.” — William Saroyan, Nobel prize winner
  • “Bicycles are almost as good as guitars for meeting girls.” — Bob Weir, Grateful Dead singer, songwriter and guitarist
A version of this review was originally posted on the Opinionated Gamers website.