Saturday, February 29, 2020

#7: A Brief History of the World (Mark's Top 50 - 2020)

A Brief History of the World
  • rank: 1989
  • rating: 6.94
Print Status
  • out of print
Why It's On The List
  • It's all about the epic sweep of history - and this particular version of a game system originally published in 1991(!) is the best yet. It's tighter, smarter, and faster than any previous edition - playing time is about 3 hours for six players to experience this dudes/empires on a map masterpiece.
Tips & Tricks:
  • I first played the Ragnor Brothers' History of the World in the mid-90s. The experience was a disaster - six new players coupled with the overly wargamer-tinged rules of the original Avalon Hill publication of the game meant it took us nearly four hours to complete two of the seven epochs... and then we abandoned the game.
    It was nearly six years later when I received an early prize table pick at a gaming convention and thanks evidently to a whiff of the massive amounts of plastic figures in the box decided to pick up the Hasbro/Avalon Hill edition as my first pick. The game was substantially better than I had remembered - esp. with the revisions that had been made to streamline the design. It became one of those "once a year" games (because of the length... 4-6 hours) though I wanted to play more often.
  • Fast forward to late 2009 as the Ragnor Brothers announced that they had - nearly 20 years after the first edition was published - once again made some major revisions to their signature game. The early press was positive enough for me to plunk down some hard-earned cash on it - seeing as how I hadn't played my beloved H/AH copy of HOTW in nearly 3 years.
  • I didn't waste a penny... though I miss the 7 different plastic minis (one type for each epoch) and the shiny capitol/city markers, everything else I love about the game system is still there - and less. It's shorter, leaner & tighter (our six player game this year took 3 1/2 hours with 2 new players)... and there's actually more room in the game for tactical & strategic decision-making while reducing the number of armies on the board. The refining of the empire deck (giving more thematically specific powers to some of the empires) and the costing of the event deck (many events now come with some kind of VP cost to activate) make for an even better game.
  • There is an iOS app - which is a little buggy but a lot of fun for personal play against the AI.
  • This is more of an experience game than a strategy game - but given the choice, you want to score when you have lots of pieces on the board (follow a late empire pick with an early empire pick) and deny the same opportunities to your opponents.
  • I've quoted above pretty much the only thing I've written about A Brief History of the World.
  • Here's the two (admittedly short) blurbs from The One Hundred: the group blurb & my personal blurb.
  • I have not played the most recent published version of History of the World... but I'd certainly like to try.

Friday, February 28, 2020

#8: Fast Food Franchise (Mark's Top 50 - 2020)

Fast Food Franchise
  • rank: 4861
  • rating: 6.35
Print Status
  • really out of print
Why It's On The List
  • Imagine if the designer of Race for the Galaxy decided to take making a roll'n'move that both gamers & non-gamers could love... that combined some very Monopoly-ish elements with tactical board play. And then you can wake up & play it, because this is actually Tom Lehmann's first game design!
Tips & Tricks:
  • Despite initial appearances, all of the companies are viable options for strategies to win Fast Food Franchise. (Some require you to open a second company - particularly those that grow quickly but don't generate cash from other players.)
  • That said, you must watch your cash flow - relative both to your own building needs and the increasing costs of paying your competitors.
  • Rookie mistake? Not advertising.
  • There are two expansions that exist (note: I don't use the word "available"): 2 more companies (Tacos Today & Noodles to Go)... and a set of old skool fast food worker hats for each of the companies.
  • Fast Food Franchise was one of the 138 Games to Play Before You Die over on the Opinionated Gamers website.
  • Here's what I wrote about the game for The One Hundred.
  • I talked with Tom a couple of years back about the chances of this getting reprinted... he is continuing to try to make that happen, which will make a number of my friends very happy.
  • Speaking of Tom, this is the fourth of five (5!) Tom Lehmann designs on my top 50 list.

Thursday, February 27, 2020

#9: Ticket to Ride (Mark's Top 50 - 2020)

Ticket to Ride 
  • rank: 156
  • rating: 7.44
Print Status
  • in print
Why It's On The List
  • Gorgeous production coupled with easy gameplay... a classic theme (trains!) coupled with a classic Rummy set-collection mechanic... just as playable with 2 as it is with 5.
Tips & Tricks:
  • Playing with 3 or 5 players is MUCH more cutthroat than playing with 2 or 4, due to how crowded the board can become.
  • There are a number of expansions & stand-alone versions of the game. I'm partial to the 1910 card expansion - as well as...
    • the Legendary Asia/Team Asia box
    • the Switzerland/India box
    • the Pennsylvania/United Kingdom box
  • I have played a number of other versions/variants... while I really enjoy the small versions (New York/London), I didn't think that Heart of Africa or France were necessary expansions.
  • The iOS app for the game is tremendous!
  • Most importantly, this is an excellent "gateway" game for non-gamers.

Wednesday, February 26, 2020

#10: Can't Stop (Mark's Top 50 - 2020)

Can't Stop

  • rank: 690
  • rating: 6.86
Print Status
  • in print?
Why It's On The List
  • In my ever-so-humble opinion, this (and not Acquire) is Sid Sackson's masterpiece. It's so simple & yet so engaging.
Tips & Tricks:
    • One of the niftier variants to try is "one piece per space" - in other words, you can't stop rolling if you would have to place a marker on an already occupied space.
    • Dan Blum once suggested that there are two basic ways to play Can't Stop based on Star Trek: you can play like Kirk (take crazy risks) or Spock (analyze the odds). I find that both funny and accurate.
    • There are some enterprising folks who have scavenged copies of Advance to Boardwalk to add extra playing pieces to their copies of Can't Stop - I am not one of them. First, that's rude to a very nice game (Advance to Boardwalk). Second, Can't Stop isn't as much fun with 5+ players.
    • My last four games of the 2013 Gathering of Friends were the Can’t Stop tournament. I won my first two rounds, then squeaked forward in the semifinal with a second place finish over my arch-nemesis (and good friend) Larry Levy. (There were two semifinal games with 3 players each – the first two players to complete 3 columns advanced to the final.) So, I found myself in the final against Daryl, Rebecca, and the designer of two of my favorite games: Tom Lehmann. I quickly shot up the board & claimed the 6 and the 8… but it took what seemed like forever (thanks to a couple of near-misses) for me to finally nail down a 3rd column and the win! That win SHOULD have meant that I got the first pick off the amazing prize table in 2014... but as I was not able to attend, I got nothing but the thrill of victory. Sigh.
    • Here's what I wrote about Can't Stop for The One Hundred.

    Tuesday, February 25, 2020

    #11: Anno 1701: Das Brettspiel (Mark's Top 50 - 2020)

    Anno 1701: Das Brettspiel

    • rank: 4267
    • rating: 6.74
    Print Status
    • out of print
    Why It's On The List
    • While I didn't like Klaus Teuber's attempt to make Anno 1503 deeper via an expansion - I thought it was bloated & made the game much too long - I think his 2nd attempt at a similar game was very, very successful. And that's Anno 1701, which feels like a cross between The Settlers of Catan & Anno 1503.
    Tips & Tricks:
      • There are lots of options to harvest victory points (which can win you the game) - but you can't try to do all of them.
      • The island tile sets are nearly identical - the brown ones are just farther from the starting point.
      • Sadly, this game has never been published in English - there are some translation issues but they shouldn't be an insurmountable barrier.
      • Not liking Settlers of Catan does not necessarily mean you'll dislike Anno 1701 - give it a try!.
      • My hot take: I think this design informed the design of Catan: Explorers and Pirates... they share a number of very good design ideas.
      • This is the third of three games on my top 50 list designed by Klaus Teuber.

      Monday, February 24, 2020

      #12: Dungeon Lords (Mark's Top 50 - 2020)

      Dungeon Lords 
      • rank: 221
      • rating: 7.41
      Print Status
      • in print
      Why It's On The List
      • Flip your standard adventurers v. monsters around and put players in the role of harried dungeon masters trying to fend off sticky-fingered heroes. Add loads of RPG and WoW-related humor... and tie it together with an almost perfect melding of mechanic and theme.
      Tips & Tricks:
      • My original impression of Dungeon Lords is that it only worked with a full complement of four players. I'm happy to say that I was wrong. My oldest son and I really enjoy playing two player - there are some interesting decisions in choosing actions for the non-player dungeon lords.
      • The Festival Season expansion makes the game a little longer & adds some more wrinkles... but they're really good wrinkles and worth the time if you like the game system.
      • You MUST pay attention to what other players can and cannot choose as actions to avoid losing an action. 
      • CGE published a blinged-out version of the game (Happy Anniversary) - I spent too much money getting the pieces to upgrade my set, but it's just so darn cool.
      • Final warning: a 4 player game with the expansion fills up a dining room table - but it looks good doing it.
      • I'm really proud of my review of the Festival Season expansion... I think I managed to capture the humorous tone that adds so much to this game system.
      • This is the second of two games on my list designed by Vlaada Chvatil.

      Sunday, February 23, 2020

      #13: Africa (Mark's Top 50 - 2020)


      • rank: 2584
      • rating: 5.98
      Print Status
      • out of print
      Why It's On The List
      • A great Knizia exploration game that was sadly under-rated when it first appeared in 2002 because it wasn't the next Euphrat & Tigris.
      Tips & Tricks:
      • As much as possible, don't waste moves. You can work to set up plays so that you can make sure that each turn has two productive activities.
      • Use the "skip a turn, move anywhere" power sparingly.
      • Relocating nomads can be very lucrative point-wise, especially if you plan for it.
      • Africa packs a lot of game into 30 minutes... it's worth tracking down a copy.
      • I don't understand it - but for some reason, this is a really polarizing game for some people.
      • Here's what I wrote about Africa for The One Hundred.
      • This is the fourth of four games on my list by designer Reiner Knizia.

      Saturday, February 22, 2020

      #14: Catan (Mark's Top 50 - 2020)

      • rank: 353
      • rating: 7.17
      Print Status
      • in print
      Why It's On The List
      • The game that launched the European "game" invasion... the first true "franchise" game for Kosmos & Mayfair... a game so simple & yet so innovative that it could inspire devoted play with almost any crowd. This infinitely variable game of trading & building is still a personal favorite, even when way too many gamers have left it behind.
      Tips & Tricks:
      • While your first game may take 90+ minutes, it's not unusual for experienced players to knock out a game in 60 minutes or less. A lot of that depends on how quickly trading goes and how "aware" the people you're playing are - example: it doesn't matter how many times you ask for "brick", if we haven't rolled it in two rounds, it isn't there for trade. Sigh.
      • Our local group prefers playing 5 player with the slightly larger board and the "build around" rule.
      • The picture above is my well-worn but well-loved original German Die Siedler von Catan collection - which includes (pictured) the base game, Seafarers, Cities & Knights, the first two historical boxes, "The Book", and "The Chocolate Market"... and the 5/6 player expansions for all of the big boxes. Not pictured are Settlers of the Stone Age, Struggle for Rome, Rise of the Inkas, Candamir, and the original Starfarers (with the resin figures!). And let's not forget the numerous official country and state maps, a plethora of official variants, and even some oddball scenario maps created nearly 20 years ago and released at Essen by various folks. I've loved Catan for a very long time.
      • I wrote my Unofficial Guide to Catan back in 2007 - but the basic information is still pretty helpful, if not complete due to age. (Part 2 focuses on Catan spinoffs; Part 3 is a 2010 update of Part 1.)
      • I also wrote about my visit to the very first CatanCon.
      • Here's what I wrote about the game for The One Hundred... and here's what I wrote for my personal One Hundred.

      Friday, February 21, 2020

      #15: Fresco (Mark's Top 50 - 2020)

      • rank: 286
      • rating: 7.30
      Print Status
      • in print
      Why It's On The List
      • Fresco is a lovely worker-placement game that has three endearing qualities: first, it has an interesting theme; second, pretty much every mechanic in the game can be explained in terms of that theme... and finally, it does not seem to ever bog down with AP (analysis paralysis) like some other worker-placement games.
      Tips & Tricks:
        • You can play Fresco as a "sandbox" game (where you don't pay much attention to what other players are doing), but to really excel at the game, you must watch carefully to see what paints are highly desired and whether or not you'll have multiple options if you go later in the turn order.
        • One of the trickiest decisions in the game is manipulating the turn order by taking less points.
        • This will happen again with more games at the top of this list... I like the multiple expansion modules which let you customize the length and complexity of the game.
        • The picture with this post is Fresco set up with most of the published expansions.
        • Here's my take on the plethora of expansions:
          • In the original box (1-3):
            • The portrait cards & paint mixing tiles are great ideas & should be used from the start with gamers
            • The extra paint colors add some interesting tactical decisions but add to the length of the game.
          • First large expansion box (4-6)
            • The gold leaf a nice touch that increases the score, but I think it works best when coupled with the glaziers to offer different scoring pathways to pursue.
            • The wishing well is pretty random & non-essential.
          • Second large expansion box (8-10)
            • The second set of expansions (the bell, the "plague", etc.) are not necessary - but do give the game some variety if you're playing it a lot... which, sadly, I am not.
          • Stand-alone expansions (7 & Queenie 1)
            • There are two other small expansions published - a small giveaway called The Bishop's Favor (which I like) and an incredibly over-priced set of "secret" bonuses called The Scrolls (which would like better if it wasn't so expensive).
          • Fresco Mega Box expansions
            • These don’t physically exist yet… but were part of the Fresco Mega Box Gold Edition. The only one that sounds like something I really want is The Dome… but the cost of the expansion pack was too high even with my deep love for this game. Of course, I wouldn't say "no" if someone gave it to me. :-)

        Thursday, February 20, 2020

        #16: Baseball Highlights 2045 (Mark's Top 50 - 2020)

        Baseball Highlights 2045

        • rank: 421
        • rating: 7.75
        Print Status
        • in print
        Why It's On The List
        • The name implies the genius of the design - with a six card hand, you aren't simulating a whole baseball game... you're just showing us the highlights. Set in a future timestream where robots are batters and pitchers have cybernetic arms, this wonderful game melds deck-building with hand management in clever and interesting ways.
        Tips & Tricks:
          • Drafting well is key... and part of that key is paying attention to the types of players your opponent is drafting.
          • Losing a game on your way to the World Series can be beneficial, if you stack your team with popular players that enable to get higher quality draftees.
          • While I'm not a fan of the three player variant in the rulebook, the 2 player game is great and the 4 player tournament is amazing with 4 experienced players.
          • The expansions that add players have some nice twists - the coaches and ballpark expansions are just for variety (aka non-essential).
          • Strangely enough - for being a complete non-fan of most baseball (unless I'm there watching it live) - this is the second baseball-themed game in my top 50 list.
          • This is the second of two Mike Fitzgerald designs on my top 50 list.

          Wednesday, February 19, 2020

          #17: Eminent Domain (Mark's Top 50 - 2020)

          Eminent Domain

          • rank: 498
          • rating: 7.08
          Print Status
          • in print
          Why It's On The List
          • Yes, I know... it's another space empire-building deck-builder (right after I put Core Worlds at #46). Eminent Domain is tighter & quicker than Core Worlds (read: less sprawling) - and is easier to teach new players. Don't let that fool you, though - there's some nifty twists on classic mechanics from Race for the Galaxy and Dominion that add to an excellent game.
          Tips & Tricks:
          • My first experience with Eminent Domain was off-putting: late in a long gaming weekend with two people trying to teach me the rules at the same time. I'm glad I gave it another chance - it's a game that reveals new wrinkles each time you play.
          • Learning when (and when not) to invest in technology is a key game skill - and one that took me a few plays to learn.
          • I think the Escalation expansion is splendid - though not for first time players. Especially nice are the scenarios, which give each player a different starting hand along with some technological advance.
          • While I think the game probably shines best with 3 players, my oldest son and I have played a lot of 2 player games and enjoyed them immensely.
          • Sadly, this is really the only thing I've written about Eminent Domain.
          • I did write a preview of Eminent Domain: Microcosm - a fantastic 2 player microgame in the same universe.
          • I also had the privilege of playtesting the Exotica expansion for Eminent Domain... which is very cool.
          • And for die hards, the Oblivion expansion adds an interesting political system.

          Tuesday, February 18, 2020

          #18: 7 Wonders Duel (Mark's Top 50 - 2020)

          7 Wonders Duel

          • rank: 16
          • rating: 8.11
          Print Status
          • in print
          Why It's On The List
          • There was a 2 player variant in the original 7 Wonders box... but it wasn't particularly interesting. Enter 7 Wonders Duel, which managed to capture the drafting "feel" of the original game but work perfectly for 2 players.
          Tips & Tricks:
          • There are three ways to win: military, science, and points... focusing on military or science can force your opponent to fight to stop you - and short circuit their plans.
          • Wise use of money is key to winning - being cash poor gives your opponent freedom to leave cards out that you can't use.
          • The combination of yellow (commmercial) cards and burning cards for cash (increased by each yellow card you have) can be an effective strategy to deny players important cards while increasing your coffers.
          • The picture above includes the excellent Pantheon expansion... and the designer and publisher have both been Tweeting about work on a second expansion.
          • The app (which was just recently released) actually has a very good AI.
          • This is the first of two games on my top 50 list designed by Antoine Bauza - and I'm willing to bet you can guess what the second one is.

          Monday, February 17, 2020

          #19: Flowerpower (Mark's Top 50 - 2020)


          • rank: 3006
          • rating: 6.57
          Print Status
          • way out of print
          Why It's On The List
          • Despite an off-putting box cover, this is a tremendous two-player game of building gardens that can be played "friendly" or "cutthroat"... and enjoyed both ways.
          Tips & Tricks:
          • You must use the "community garden" area wisely - ignoring it will simply allow your opponent more space to plant with.
          • Wait to use your "weeds" (you only have three of them) until your opponent has filled up enough of his side of the board to make them painful.
          • Pay attention to how much space you'll need to get a flower bed to the next point level - there's no use making a bed of five flowers when they're worth the same as a bed of three flowers.
          • This is a game that begs for a reprint... preferably using the GeekBits concept.
          • Here's what I wrote about Flowerpower for Game Central Station (my old website)

          Sunday, February 16, 2020

          #20: Clank!: A Deck-Building Adventure (Mark's Top 50 - 2020)

          Clank!: A Deck-Building Adventure
          • rank: 58
          • rating: 7.81
          Print Status
          • in print
          Why It's On The List
          • Smoosh Dungeonquest (which already appeared on this list) and Ascension together and you'd get something close to this fantastic deck-building dungeon crawl... with the very clever “clank” mechanic binding the two together and acting a game timer and source of tension.
          Tips & Tricks:
          • While there is a lot of witty color text, it’s small and doesn’t make the cards more difficult to read.
          • The graphic design of the cards is really smart – they have used consistent iconography and clear text instructions to make it easy to understand what the card does for you, even when you add in the expansion cards.
          • The expansions have been packaged well in appropriately sized boxes... and have all been worth their cost as far as enjoyment and variety goes. (Better than you can say for some franchises - I'm looking at you, Adrenaline Team Play DLC and Carcassonne: The Catapult.)
          • You can read my recent Welcome to the Clank-iverse overview of all the expansions available for Clank!... and includes Kulkmann's homebrewed rules for a Clank! campaign.
          • Clank! In! Space! is excellent as well... with a slightly higher rules overhead.
          • My boys and I loved Clank! Legacy. It is longer per game by about 50%, but we had a blast.
          • The picture includes heroes from various expansions as well as the different versions of the "boss" marker... and the monkey idols. There's a really monkey obsession on the part of the designers.

          Saturday, February 15, 2020

          #21: Im Reich der Wüstensöhne (Mark's Top 50 - 2020)

          Im Reich der Wüstensöhne
          • rank: 5139
          • rating: 6.48
          Print Status
          • out of print
          Why It's On The List
          • As much as I love Entdecker (the parent game to the Im Reich series), I love this gamer-friendly take on desert nomads & the struggle for water & goods even more.
          Tips & Tricks:
          • The name literally means "in the realm of the desert sons". And while the game rules are in German, almost all of the actual components are language-neutral.
          • This is designed by Klaus Teuber - the same guy who gave us The Settlers of Catan.
          • There is one other game in this series: "In the Realm of the Jade Goddess" - which is a little more of a family game. There was supposed to be a third game - "In the Realm of the Demons" - but it was never published. (This continues to make me sad in my heart.)
          • Water is your friend - do not (if you can help it) run out of water.
          • Camels are also your friend - you'll need some in order to win the game.
          • An important rule change was made AFTER publication - in order to complete an oasis on the edge of the board, the outer edge of the piece must be desert. Makes the game trickier - and better.
          • I need to actually write a review of this game... which is probably not going to happen any time soon. 
          • I also need to bug my friend (who shall remain nameless) with a connection to Herr Teuber to see if 
            • a. this can be reprinted
            • b. In the Realm of the Demons could be released into the wild!
          • Just a thought: a Kickstarter "big box" with all three games in one box. :-)

          Friday, February 14, 2020

          #22: Tales of the Arabian Nights (Mark's Top 50 - 2020)

          Tales of the Arabian Nights

          • rank: 376
          • rating: 7.22
          Print Status
          • out of print
          Why It's On The List
          • It's the old "Choose Your Own Adventure" books in board game form... and, with the right players, a completely engrossing & enjoyable two hour "experience game" romp.
          Tips & Tricks:
            • Play with 3 players - that way every one gets something to do on each turn & stays involved.
            • You can make the game shorter by using a smaller victory point total... but then you miss some of the fun of the sprawling nonsense of chasing your goals.
            • I can't emphasize enough how much you need the right players... when you have that (I'm looking at you, Jeff Myers & Richard LeQueiu), the experience is sublime. And hysterical.
            • Here's what I wrote about Tales of the Arabian Nights for my 2010 Top 100.
            • The version pictured is the most recent - which has the most extensive Book of Tales and a lovely graphic design by Universal Head.

            Thursday, February 13, 2020

            #23: StreetSoccer (Mark's Top 50 - 2020)


            • rank: 2076
            • rating: 6.54
            Print Status
            • don't think it's in print... but there are lots of copies available on the secondhand market
            Why It's On The List
            • It doesn't so much simulate soccer (like Pursue the Pennant attempts to simulate baseball)... instead, it uses a backgammon-ish mechanic to simulate the feel of a soccer game - and does so brilliantly.
            Tips & Tricks:
              • Like playing backgammon, winning at StreetSoccer is as much about the position you leave yourself in as well as pushing hard to score...
              • And like backgammon, what appears initially to be a random dice game actually reveals itself to be a very tactical game of risk & probability.
              • There are three different online PBEM versions of StreetSoccer... the one I used to play on (a lot!) was Little Golem.

              Wednesday, February 12, 2020

              #24: Star Wars: The Queen's Gambit (Mark's Top 50 - 2020)

              Star Wars: The Queen's Gambit

              • rank: 679
              • rating: 7.56
              Print Status
              • VERY out of print
              Why It's On The List
              • This is possibly the best licensed game out there... based on the weakest film in the Star Wars franchise. It manages to capture the best parts of a bad film and make a splendid game.
              Tips & Tricks:
              • The Trade Federation is slightly easier to play... but with two experienced players, the game is pretty well balanced.
              • If you're playing the Naboo side, you MUST use every Anakin card possible to push the timer. (This is really the only "can't miss" bit of strategic advice I can give you.)
              • This is not the only good Star Wars game (I also like Outer Rim X-Wing Miniatures) but it's certainly the best. (Note: I have not yet played Imperial Assault or Armada or Legion...)
              • Here's what I wrote about The Queen's Gambit for The One Hundred
              • This is the third of four games co-designed by Rob Daviau on this countdown... and the first of two co-designed by Craig Van Ness. (Please note: Rob heaps praise on Craig for doing the lion's share of the work on Queen's Gambit.)

              Tuesday, February 11, 2020

              #25: Dungeonquest (Mark's Top 50 - 2020)

              • rank: 993
              • rating: 6.68
              Print Status
              • out of print... in all three editions
              Why It's On The List
              • I have always described this game as "similar to playing Dungeons & Dragons with a DM who hates your guts" - it's a short (no more than an hour...and often shorter!), brutal & intensely fun experience game/dungeon crawl.
              Tips & Tricks:
              • While I appreciate what Fantasy Flight did in reprinting Dungeonquest, I wasn't a fan of the goofy combat system they loaded onto it or the seriousness they added to the proceedings by transporting the game into their Terrinoth universe. (Part of the charm of Dungeonquest is the off-beat dark humor - which I attribute to the unique blend of Swedish designer & British publisher.)
              • That said, I have not played the Revised Edition reprint... which has better buzz than the earlier version.
              • If you manage to track down a copy of the original game + the two expansions, consider yourself incredibly lucky. It took me nearly 8 years to find the expansions - and even then I had to replace some of the missing miniatures from the used copy I bought.
              • The FFG edition includes some of the expansion stuff - so if you can find that at a reasonable price, it's still a good deal. (But look on BGG for alternate ways to do combat that don't slow the game down.)
              • We have a house rule... you can't win by simply surviving (running in a couple of spaces & running right back out). You must find SOMETHING of value - and no, a potentially poisonous healing "potion" does not count.
              • Do not under any circumstances (a) get too attached to your character, or (b) take the game too seriously. It's just a rousing chance to roll dice, fight monsters & generally find creative new ways to die.
              • I still have trouble believing that I haven't written more about Dungeonquest. I will have to remedy that... someday.

              Monday, February 10, 2020

              Choosing Not To Die

              Over the years of this blog - both in the salad days when I posted 100+ times per year and the more recent lean years (in which you, gentle reader, were lucky if I posted 10 times in 365 days) - I've written sporadically about politics. The majority of those posts were calls for civility and Biblical wisdom... decrying the focus on demonizing your political opponent and holding out hope for meaningful ways for faith & politics to intersect & coexist.

              I've avoided (for the most part) making public statements for or against any particular political candidate, while encouraging followers of Christ to treat politicians they disagree with in the light of the fruit of the Spirit rather than based on the braying of the loudest members of their political tribe. As a pastor of a church, I worked to keep my political opinions to myself in order to be able to reach people of different backgrounds and political allegiances.

              I am no longer a vocational pastor - I left full-time congregational ministry in 2013 (just over 7 years ago). I continue to attend a Southern Baptist church (albeit one that our wonderful pastor describes as "Southern Baptist but we're not very good at it"). Though I would recoil at being called a fundamentalist because of the negative connotations that are now Super-Glued to that word, I can easily subscribe to what used to be called the fundamentals of the Christian faith:
              • the deity of Christ
              • the trustworthiness of the Bible
              • the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ
              • the complete inadequacy of our works to make up for our sinful choices and behaviors
              • the role of followers of Christ to share Biblical truth with love and grace
              As well, I am a life-long member of the Republican Party and a consistent voter for Republican candidates...

              ...until 2016.

              I chose for a variety of reasons to vote for a conservative third party candidate rather than for Donald Trump or Hillary Clinton. I wore the "Never Trump" badge with pride... and kept hoping that the Republican establishment and voter base would come to their senses. I thought attacking a Gold Star family would do it. I was wrong. I thought that the Access Hollywood tape with the "locker room talk" would doom his candidacy. Again, I was wrong.

              The past three years have validated my concerns about his temperament, his lack of discernment, his willingness to lie, his reflexive instinct to bully & name-call... and his specific ignorance of the U.S. Constitution and general ignorance about civics and civil society.

              I am - sadly - not surprised by the behavior of the President. This is the guy who followed his second divorce by saying "Well if you have to work at it then maybe it’s not worth having...I have to work at everything else in my life. I just think a marriage should be easy, not hard"... and let Reuters know back in 2017 that being President is "...more work than in my previous life. I thought it would be easier.”

              Alexander Hamilton wrote a description of the kind of man who would seek higher office that echoes the actions of President Trump (letter from August 1792):
              "When a man unprincipled in private life desperate in his fortune, bold in his temper, possessed of considerable talents, having the advantage of military habits—despotic in his ordinary demeanour—known to have scoffed in private at the principles of liberty—when such a man is seen to mount the hobby horse of popularity—to join in the cry of danger to liberty—to take every opportunity of embarrassing the General Government & bringing it under suspicion—to flatter and fall in with all the non sense of the zealots of the day—It may justly be suspected that his object is to throw things into confusion that he may “ride the storm and direct the whirlwind.”"
              What I was surprised by was the hypocrisy of Republicans who had castigated President Clinton for his obvious moral failings (lying, adultery, etc.) and yet excused similar behaviors in President Trump. Members of the House and Senate took turns excusing and/or avoiding comment on a myriad of egregious behaviors... culminating in the sickening display of partisanship that has been the preparation for and execution of the Senate impeachment trial. 

              I have been no less surprised by the number of followers of Christ who have been willing to excuse the behavior of the President ("sh**hole countries", "grab 'em by the p****", "it was all bulls***", etc.) as a trade for political access and power. His display of disdain for loving your enemies at the National Prayer Breakfast last week was excused and applauded by those who know the Sermon on the Mount... but are willing to let it slide in order to maintain their access. I understand that the Democratic Party and its candidates (both in 2016 and 2020) seem hell-bent on ignoring the concerns of evangelical voters... but I am reminded of the following quote from Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn's Nobel acceptance speech:
              The simple act of an ordinary brave man is not to participate in lies, not to support false actions! His rule: Let that come into the world, let it even reign supreme—only not through me. (emphasis mine)
              That said, I am leaving the Republican party - not because my beliefs about political issues have changed, but because I cannot support a callous disregard for objective truth and the unwillingness to hold the President (and others) responsible for their destructive ways of governing. I am registering as an Independent... because, while I admire the way congressional Democrats have spoken truth to power in the last few months, I continue to be frustrated by their lack of concern for religious freedom (Christian or otherwise) and the clueless pursuit of political positions farther and farther from the center.


              I am still an evangelical - though I believe that many of my "tribe" need to carefully examine the Scriptures to see where they have conflated it with nationalist leanings that run counter to Galatians 3:28 (Phillips):
              Gone is the distinction between Jew and Greek, slave and free man, male and female—you are all one in Christ Jesus.
              My role - even as a layperson without a pulpit - is to continue to "speaking the truth in love [in all things—both our speech and our lives expressing His truth]" (Ephesian 4:15, Amplified) and scolding "the rebels who devote their lives to wreaking havoc." (1 Thessalonians 5:14, Voice) In an evangelical culture that seems hellbent on excusing the worst excesses of political behavior in the futile quest for proximity and earthly power, I know that speaking out will have the tendency to rub some fellow followers of Christ the wrong way. 

              So, aware of the response I'm likely to find, let me start anyway.


              In the fall of 2018, I ran into John Fea's excellent book entitled Believe Me: The Evangelical Road to Donald Trump. It was incredibly heartening to read an evangelical historian writing thoughtfully and well-documented commentary about the current political situation - someone from someone "inside the fold" thinking historically and Biblically about politics and faith.

              I'm aware that some of my gentle readers are not interested in reading an entire book that questions the wisdom or motivation of their vote/support of the President... so I'll give you the paragraph that that floored me.

              We are operating more out of fear than out of trust in God. We are afraid, and there is no good result from engaging the world from a place of fear. . . . It causes us to trust in the wrong people and the wrong things to protect us. I see it in us. We are turning to the wrong saviors. We think our salvation lies somewhere where it does not. [We are] grasping at power in our current cultural atmosphere and trying to maintain influence. By the way, that’s not the way to get influence—to continue grasping at it desperately. . . . The person who is afraid long enough will always turn angry. Fear never leads to peace. Fear never leads to joy. It always leads to anger, usually anger at those who are not like you.
              And I still think you should read the book - especially if you think you'll disagree with it.


              It is past time for us as evangelicals to turn from fear to trust, from callow and casual lies to sharp-edged truth. It is past time for us to allow a single issue (abortion) to be the ring in the nose that allows cynical politicians to lead wherever they want us to go. (Note: I am profoundly pro-life... but Biblically that has to encompass more than just opposition to abortion.)

              It is past time for us as evangelicals to stop demonizing those who disagree with our beliefs or morals. It is past time for us to cease from spreading rumors and ignorant memes that run counter to the wisdom of Scripture in Proverbs 26:18-19 (NIV): 

              Like a maniac shooting flaming arrows of death is one who deceives their neighbor and says, “I was only joking!” 
              It is past time for us as evangelicals to avoid loving our enemies by hiring someone to hate for us. (Please read David French's incredible column on this...)

              It is past time for evangelical leaders to stop excusing the president's clear immoral conduct with a list of all the stuff he's done for Christians. This would be the Biblical equivalent of justifying Solomon's multiple wives & concubines (and the building of shrines to their various gods) by pointing at Solomon's Temple.

              Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn wrote that...
              It is not because the truth is too difficult to see that we make mistakes... we make mistakes because the easiest and most comfortable course for us is to seek insight where it accords with our emotions - especially selfish ones.
              I long to be the "ordinary brave man" Solzhenitsyn spoke about... not reclining in my self-centered emotional preferences but standing in the bracing and sometimes painful light of Biblical truth. I don't want to die inside because I live in fear of what speaking the truth in love may cost.
              A man dies when he refuses to stand up for that which is right. A man dies when he refuses to stand up for justice. A man dies when he refuses to take a stand for that which is true. (Martin Luther King, Jr.)
              I choose not to die. I choose to stand.