Thursday, August 27, 2020

Accurately Handling the Word of Truth

Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles. And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith. For the joy set before him he endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.

Hebrews 12:1-2 (NIV)

Therefore, since we have so great a cloud of witnesses surrounding us, let us also lay aside every encumbrance and the sin which so easily entangles us, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of faith, who for the joy set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.

Hebrews 12:1-2 (NASB)

Therefore, since we have such a hope, we are very bold. We are not like Moses, who would put a veil over his face to prevent the Israelites from seeing the end of what was passing away. But their minds were made dull, for to this day the same veil remains when the old covenant is read. It has not been removed, because only in Christ is it taken away. Even to this day when Moses is read, a veil covers their hearts. But whenever anyone turns to the Lord, the veil is taken away. Now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom. And we all, who with unveiled faces contemplate[a] the Lord’s glory, are being transformed into his image with ever-increasing glory, which comes from the Lord, who is the Spirit.

2 Corinthians 3:12-18 (NIV) 
"So let’s run the race marked out for us. Let’s fix our eyes on Old Glory and all she represents. Let’s fix our eyes on this land of heroes and let their courage inspire. Let’s fix our eyes on the author and perfecter of our faith and our freedom, and never forget that where the spirit of the Lord is there is freedom. That means freedom always wins."

Vice President Pence - August 26, 2020 (transcript source)

I get it. I understand rhetorical flourish and echoing classic passages of literature to evoke emotion.

But we as evangelicals are called to "be diligent to present yourself approved to God as a workman who does not need to be ashamed, accurately handling the word of truth." (2 Timothy 2:15, NASB). What Vice President Pence did last night is not accurately handling Scripture.

There are things we as followers of Christ are NOT called to do...
  • prioritize the American flag (and what it represents) over Jesus
  • prioritize this "land of heroes" (America) over the Kingdom of God
...that are clearly implied by Vice President Pence's appropriation of Scriptural language. 

Evangelical historian John Fea pointed out that, in Biblical context, 2 Corinthians 3:17 "has NOTHING to do w/ political freedom & everything to do w/ freedom from sin, death, & guilt... The patriotic ministers of the American Revolution used scripture this way all the time. It was wrong then and its wrong now."

I am reminded of C.S. Lewis' words in The Weight of Glory:
“It is a serious thing to live in a society of possible gods and goddesses, to remember that the dullest most uninteresting person you can talk to may one day be a creature which,if you saw it now, you would be strongly tempted to worship, or else a horror and a corruption such as you now meet, if at all, only in a nightmare. All day long we are, in some degree helping each other to one or the other of these destinations. It is in the light of these overwhelming possibilities, it is with the awe and the circumspection proper to them, that we should conduct all of our dealings with one another, all friendships, all loves, all play, all politics. There are no ordinary people. You have never talked to a mere mortal. Nations, cultures, arts, civilizations - these are mortal, and their life is to ours as the life of a gnat. But it is immortals whom we joke with, work with, marry, snub, and exploit - immortal horrors or everlasting splendors.” (emphasis mine)

I wanted to come up with something wise and convicting to close this post with... I wanted to turn on my "pastor mojo" and finish with marching orders to my fellow followers of Christ.

But I'm tired. So tired of watching Biblical truth being used as a prop.

So, I leave you with this.
Pray always. Pray in the Spirit. Pray about everything in every way you know how! And keeping all this in mind, pray on behalf of God’s people. Keep on praying feverishly, and be on the lookout until evil has been stayed.

Ephesians 6:18 (VOICE)

Wednesday, August 26, 2020

Walk & Chew Gum

Some things that you are able to do at the same time:

- like highly rated games on BoardGameGeek and still enjoy playing Monopoly

- love watching renovation shows on television and not actually enjoy renovating things yourself

- home school your kids and support public schools

- be a follower of Christ and not be a Republican

- be a follower of Christ and not be a Democrat

- believe in personal freedom and still wear a mask in public to protect others

- believe in the inspired nature of the Bible and still listen to scientists

- believe that systemic racism in America must be dealt with while denouncing violent rioting 

- be an advocate for policing reform while supporting police officers

- passionately protest racial injustice and show profound respect for people regardless of color

- be a white evangelical without supporting our current President

- discuss issues with people who disagree with you while not demanding that they change their minds as the price of your friendship

Friday, August 21, 2020

Be It Finally Resolved...

 A reminder... 22 years ago, the evangelical denomination I've been a part of all my life passed the following resolution.

A lament... whatever happened to this Biblical call for moral leadership?

WHEREAS, “Righteousness exalts a nation, but sin is a disgrace to any people” (Proverbs 14:34 NAS); and

WHEREAS, Serious allegations continue to be made about moral and legal misconduct by certain public officials; and

WHEREAS, The Bible calls upon all citizens to submit themselves to their governing authorities as ministers of the Lord (Romans 13:1; 1 Peter 2:13); and

WHEREAS, Scripture further teaches, “Whoever resists authority has opposed the ordinance of God; and they who have opposed will receive condemnation upon themselves” (Romans 13:2); and

WHEREAS, Governing authorities are not themselves exempt from the rule of law and must submit to the nation’s statutes, rather than mocking them (Romans 13:1; 1 Peter 2:14; Proverbs 19:28-29; 2 Samuel 12:7; Mark 6:17-18); and

WHEREAS, Some journalists report that many Americans are willing to excuse or overlook immoral or illegal conduct by unrepentant public officials so long as economic prosperity prevails; and

WHEREAS, Tolerance of serious wrong by leaders sears the conscience of the culture, spawns unrestrained immorality and lawlessness in the society, and surely results in God’s judgment (1 Kings 16:30; Isaiah 5:18-25); and

WHEREAS, Many public officials and candidates deserve our gratitude and support for their consistent moral character and their uncompromising commitment to biblical principles of right and wrong, resulting in blessing upon their people.

Therefore, be it RESOLVED, That we, the messengers to the Southern Baptist Convention, meeting June 9-11, 1998, in Salt Lake City, Utah, affirm that moral character matters to God and should matter to all citizens, especially God’s people, when choosing public leaders; and

Be it further RESOLVED, That we implore our government leaders to live by the highest standards of morality both in their private actions and in their public duties, and thereby serve as models of moral excellence and character; and

Be it further RESOLVED, That we urge all citizens, including those who serve in public office, to submit themselves respectfully to governing authorities and to the rule of law; and

Be it further RESOLVED, That we urge Southern Baptists and other Christians to fulfill their spiritual duty to pray regularly for the leaders of our nation (1 Timothy 2:1-4); and

Be it finally RESOLVED, That we urge all Americans to embrace and act on the conviction that character does count in public office, and to elect those officials and candidates who, although imperfect, demonstrate consistent honesty, moral purity and the highest character.

the Resolution on Moral Character of Public Officials of the Southern Baptist Convention (emphasis mine)

O how terrible for those who confuse good with evil,

    right with wrong, light with dark, sweet with bitter. 

 Isaiah 5:20 THE VOICE

Thursday, August 06, 2020

Remembering James Miller

I found out yesterday evening that my friend, James Miller, had passed away due to an aggressive infection that turned septic. He was 50 years old. 

What follows is a series of memories, thoughts, and images about James and his impact on me.


I met James for the first time at - in a plot twist that will surprise no one that knew him - a board gaming convention in 2000. Why I was in the car that went to pick him up at the Chattanooga airport is a piece of the story that is lost to the mists of 20 years... but I distinctly remember liking James immediately. He was the kind of person who made the room (or the car) a little brighter, a little warmer, and a whole lot more welcoming.


I'm going to tell you a joke... it's not a particularly funny joke, but it's one that James loved and that I made up and therefore you're going to have to hear it. 

At my first Gathering of Friends (an invitational board game convention) in 2002, I passed by a table late one evening where James and some other folks were playing Pueblo. In the game, you place Tetris-like blocks into a central structure and assess points based on what can be seen from each side of the edifice... and also from above. As James explained the rules to me, I remarked that this overhead view was a "Hopi-copter"... and that's all it took to reduce James to near-tears of laughter. 

Over the years, he would mention that line and grin ear to ear or chuckle... and I felt both proud of my wordplay (something James was brilliant at) and enveloped in his humor and friendship.


James is not the only friend who made it possible for me to attend Gulf Games and The Gathering of Friends during my time as small church pastor in California - the generosity of those folks were a balm to my weary soul, particularly near the end of my ministry. But James was even more than that - for two years (2012 and 2013), he was my roommate and confidante at The Gathering. 

Each time, we spent over a week living with each other, taking care of each other (James made sure I ate, I made sure he rested). We played lots of games, since we both operated on the same "early morning" schedule... and our "let's see what older games deserve a second chance" meetings with Mario were a highlight of my Gathering experience.

James worried that his snoring would keep me awake. I felt the same for him. Somehow, we cancelled each other out.

In 2012, he listened and encouraged me as I talked about the struggles I'd had with leading the church and my hopes that we were reaching a better place. In 2013, when I attended the Gathering after I had resigned my role as pastor, he listened and gave me a safe place to hurt and to laugh. 

I will never forget the gift of being his roomie.


When James found out that the Jackson family didn't have an iPad, he mailed us one of his. 

I know that doesn't sound like a big deal, but we were not in a position where we could have bought an iPad - and that one gave us years of good service and enjoyment. To James, it was just another way to help out and care for us. 

It did.


For years, I told Shari and the boys that I wished they could meet James... and in the spring of 2019, the boys finally had the opportunity at the last Gulf Games to be held in Chattanooga. (I just realized - the last place I saw James is the first place I saw James.)

He took the three of us to lunch and we told stories, laughed, ate too much food, and generally enjoyed each others company. Both Collin & Braeden walked away saying how much they liked James... that he was as neat as I'd said he was. 

In February 2020, Collin & I had to bow out of attending Gulf Games due to Shari's health... one of the things that bummed both of us out was missing the opportunity to see James.


Seeing so many people post their memories of James and his warmth, his friendship, his incredible kindness, his humor, and his enjoyment of others yesterday and this morning has been both heartwarming and emotionally difficult. I'm thankful for the difference he made in so many lives; I'm crushed that I won't be sitting across the table from him again and hear him welcome me to the wonderful world of [fill in the blank] as he explains the rules. 

I also realized I don't have any pictures of James... or James & me. I'm blaming the fact that I was busy having fun with him and never bothered to pick up the camera/phone.


I am thankful for James and for his friendship... and I'm heartbroken at his death. 

Our 2020 GenCan't Experience

For someone with over 1000 games in the house (if you count expansions), I'm not really a big gaming convention guy. The last open convention I attended was TN Game Days a couple of years back (700 or so folks) and the last BIG convention I went to was KublaCon around 2006. 

So, the yearly pilgrimage to Indianapolis to GenCon hasn't ever been on my schedule. Dealing with 60,000+ gamers all in one place just doesn't appeal to me - no matter how much I'd enjoy seeing many of the folks who attend. Instead, for the last few years, the boys & I have participated in GenCan't - an online convention for those who can't (or don't) attend GenCon.

This year, of course, GenCon went online due to the virus, but GenCan't went on as usual, with a great Discord channel for chat, a bunch of events & contests, and the fun of sharing our board gaming hobby with each other. (We even have badges!)

In that spirit, I present to you the story of our GenCan't (with a bit of sneaking in the virtual back door at GenCon to peek at some of the new stuff.)

DAY ONE: Thursday

Some great conversation on the Discord channel... and sadly, work got in the way of me play MegaKaruba with folks online. But after work, the gaming began in earnest.

A classic 2 player game from Kosmos that desperately needs a reprint... Collin (my younger son) took me on and gave me a run for my money. I have a long history of winning this game against most folks - but I edged Collin out with some selective weed placement. (This game also gets an award for Best Vaguely Off-Putting Box Cover with a willowy female flower/person and a short/rotund male flower/person.)

Downforce (Aloha Sands track):
This track from the newest Downforce expansion has quickly become our favorite... the jumps (a) just look cool, and (b) offer some very interesting decisions about when to make a break for the finish line. (Downforce is the cleanest and easiest to teach version of Wolfgang Kramer's excellent racing system... over time, I've owned Tempo, Top Race, Detroit/Cleveland Grand Prix, and Daytona 500. The only ones still left in the collection are Downforce and Daytona.) I won rather handily, thanks to spending very little on my cars and Collin betting heavily on my lead car.

Unmatched: Battle of Legends:
The first of three Unmatched battles took place later in the evening... and Braeden and I played while we watched the CGE preview of Lost Ruins of Arnak. (Which looks cool, by the way.) This was a battle to the wire, as Braeden's last Raptor took down my Medusa with only a few hit points to spare. I hate to admit it, but he outplayed me.

DAY TWO: Friday

Work once again interferes with boardgaming... sigh. But I did get a chance to watch/listen to the Restoration Games "Blueprints" panel/feed from GenCon - excited about all the love for Unmatched and the content of the upcoming expansions. Also jazzed that Return to Dark Tower is staying relatively close to the original schedule... and I appreciate the straight talk about Heroquest (getting the trademark is simply one element in making sure they could do publish it IF a lot of other things happen - but there is nothing definite.)

We also managed to win a copy of ThinkFun's Chicken War in a random Twitter drawing... hey, a new game to try - bonus!

Roll for the Galaxy (Orb)
: I love this slightly longer variant on Roll for the Galaxy (you play to 15 technology & planet tiles)... and this game was no exception. I posted my best score ever at the game... but, to quote James Ingram, "I guess my best wasn't good enough" as Braeden beat me by 16 points. (Related note: I'm a beta tester on the Roll for the Galaxy app - it's really well-done!)

NEOM (solo)
: The past two Essens have been very good to someone who loves drafting games - NEOM and 7 Wonders: Armada in 2018, It's a Wonderful World in 2019. NEOM has a great packet drafting system for solo games that works really well (as does It's a Wonderful World), so it's kind of my go-to solitaire game right now. I seem to be getting worse and worse at it, though, as I try some "lean into one direction" strategies that don't seem to work as well as I want them to...

DAY THREE: Saturday

The gaming begins in earnest... no live streams, no panel discussions, not even much chatting on the Discord channel. Just playing game after game after game...

Zauberschwert & Drachenei:
Playing with all the expansions thrown in (even including Poison, which inevitably got played on me)... this has been a long-time favorite of the boys. It's a weird little Adlung Spiele card game. Players are wizards attempting to defeat larger and larger enemies to amass fame - but the central mechanic is actually an auction to either fight an enemy or build up your tableau to gain power and artifacts. (The name, btw, literally translates Magic Sword and Dragon Egg.) Braeden slaughtered us... even my giant pile of black dragon eggs didn't make up for his awesome store of power.

Vom Kap bis Kairo:
Since we were on an Adlung kick, I taught the boys my other favorite Adlung game - an auction/race game about building railroads across Africa. I won... but in fairness, I've played before and the game is quirky enough that an experienced player is likely to win. (Note: other Adlung games I love - Meuterer & Adlungland.) I like the odd mish-mash of auction, press-your-luck, and racing... all packed into 30 minutes or so.

Shards of Infinity (Shadow of Salvation):
Shards reminds me of Star Realms... but there are more twists and turns in the design of the cards. The Shadow expansion adds a cooperative mode - so Braeden & I taught Collin to play and dumped him into the cooperative campaign on his first try. As usual, the first boss is interesting but not overwhelming, the second boss was a nail-biter, and the final boss was tough but beatable. I don't think it's the perfect cooperative system for the game, since it truncates building up your shard power, but it's enjoyable every once in a while. (I do think Shards is an excellent 1v1 or 2v2 game... and it's substantially better 2v2 than Star Realms.)

Unmatched: Battle of Legends:
Our second battle of the weekend...this time, my Dracula & King Arthur team managed to defeat Bruce Lee (Collin) and Muldoon (Braeden). I think the Baskerville Manor board from the Cobble & Fog box is really clever - the secret passages require you to pay close attention to how quickly you can get boxed in. (Pro player tip: proper use of Merlin - his "sidekick" - is vital to making the King Arthur deck work.)

The only game I own designed by Tupperware. Yes, Tupperware. It's a cute (and easy) dexterity game that we talked my wife into playing - Braeden mopped the floor with the two of us. Sadly, it's very, very OOP... but you can find Hop Hop Hurray pretty easily, which is similar. (The Hop Hop blog post I link to actually good descriptions of this and of Rein damit!, a HABA game with a similar bouncing ball mechanic.)

Race for the Galaxy (Xeno Invasion):
Braeden and I play a good bit of Race for the Galaxy - so to keep things fresh, we change expansion decks every once in a while. Last weekend, we switched over to the Xeno deck, which I like. We didn't use the extra Xeno mode (which adds an alien invasion that complicates the game) - we've found it doesn't add much to our 2 player games. (I'd love to try it with 3+ players, though!) I managed to slide by him for a 2 point win.

Jump Drive
: Collin's favorite game in Tom Lehmann's Race for the Galaxy universe is Jump Drive, so he and I finished off the day with a head-to-head match. I managed to create an Uplift planet behemoth that took me to my highest 2-player score ever (85) and the win. (You can see my final two turns in the picture...yes, that's 40 points on the final turn. This overwhelming win makes up for the horrible defeat I suffered at his hands a couple of weeks ago.)


The last day (sigh) of GenCan't... which still had a number of games and the conclusion of my Dice Puzzle game (during which one of the entrants managed to identify all 9 dice correctly!).

Unmatched: Battle of Legends:
The final game of Unmatched pitted Sherlock Holmes and Sindbad (me) against Alice (Braeden) and the Raptors (Collin). Sindbad managed to do five Voyages, followed by rotating the Voyages back into his hand and putting all seven down - that's hard to beat. Of course, winning against my boys is always satisfying. (BTW, I highly recommend the Cobble & Fog box to Unmatched players... the card play on the majority of the decks is tricky enough that I might avoid it for total newbies, but anyone with experience can have a lot of fun with these very creative decks and interesting maps. For new players, the base box and/or Bigfoot vs Robin Hood is the best starting point.)

Sentinels of the Multiverse:
Braeden & I hadn't played this in a while, so out it came. While Marvel Champions has cut into our playing time on this one, they are NOT the same game, nor the same universe. (Credit to Greater Than Games for developing such a rich backstory to their superhero world.) We fought against Plague Rat at the Temple of Zhu Long... Braeden had Void Guard Doctor Medico and Chrono-Ranger (Plague Rat's nemesis) while I ran Freedom Six Bunker and Mister Fixer. We smoked Plague Rat, even while dealing with the denizens of the Temple. Gosh, I love this game.

Baseball Highlights: 2045:
I'm not a big baseball fan... oh, yeah, I like going to see a game live, but I don't watch baseball on TV and I'm certainly not obsessed with the sport like I am with college football or Premier League soccer. But Mike Fitzgerald's Baseball Highlights is a spectacular design (even with the oddly disjointed rulebook) and a joy to play - every time. The combination of deck-building/drafting with smooth play is a winner. Braeden & I had a great game, with his L.A. team fighting back from a 3-0 World Series deficit to lose 4-2. 

Cartographers: A Roll Player Tale (solo):
I bought Cartographers last fall because it looked like a good roll'n'write to carry with me in my suitcase when I was traveling for business. I was not wrong - it manages to scratch the old map-drawing itch from when I played D&D back in the day and carried around a pad of graph paper in my high school backpack to design dungeons with. At the same time, it's a clever roll'n'flip system that offers interesting choices with a varying set of scoring objectives each game. I've added the Skills expansion and a set of colored pencils... but that doesn't seem to help - my scores are actually getting worse. (But I'm still having fun.)

New Frontiers:
This was, bar none, the weirdest game of New Frontiers we've played. We were out of sync, meaning we were taking actions that the opposing player couldn't use. Braeden was building like crazy while I was just accumulating settlers/colonists due to my lack of military power. And then the game turned on a dime and I quickly settled planets and we ran out of colonists. We tied at 19 points each (a VERY low score) and I had more cash left over. 

Parting Thoughts

  1. I love the GenCan't vibe. (Thank you, Suzanne!)
  2. I didn't realize until I started writing this up that we played ALL of the Race for the Galaxy games this weekend.
  3. I'm working on a pretty massive review for the Opinionated Gamers of Unmatched. Watch for it!
  4. All the pictures here are taken by me... or one of my boys. Cool filters courtesy of Hipstamatic. 
  5. All of the links here are to stuff I've written about these games on my blog... or to reviews from the awesome team at the Opinionated Gamers (which, as you might infer from #2, I write for on a semi-regular basis.)

Monday, August 03, 2020

GenCan't 2020: The Dice Puzzle Answers

This was pretty simple... identify the games that use the custom dice above. 
One participant got all nine correct - congratulations to Chris S.!

Upper left corner: Dice Settlers
  • Which, by the way, is an excellent solo game... especially when you add in the Western Sea expansion modules.
  • 29% got this one right.
Upper middle: Impact: Battle of Elements
  • This is the U.S. reprint of Strike, which is being reprinted yet again with a Harry Potter theme. It’s a fantastic dice-chucking game that has been a hit with pretty much everyone who has played it.
  • 12% got this one right... one of the toughest dice to identify.
Upper right corner: Animal Upon Animal
  • Best. Family. Stacking. Game. Ever. 
  • In a dead heat with Rhino Hero Super Battle (also a HABA game) for best family dexterity game.
  • 41% got this one right... even with the gator "smudged" by the camera.
Middle row left: Ghost Fightin’ Treasure Hunters
  • Great components and easy-to-learn rules make this an excellent family cooperative game… and it’s pretty brutal. We don’t win very often, so when we do it’s time to celebrate!
  • 53% got this one right.
Middle row center: Duelosaur Island
  • The two-player version of Dinosaur Island…
  • I did accept Dinosaur Island as a correct answer as well. I’m not a monster.
  • 76% got this one right... but only 12% had Duelosaur Island.
Middle row right: Sushizock im Gockelwock
  • I thought that this would probably be the toughest die to figure out, as the game did not get a big U.S. release.
  • This is a cousin to Knizia’s Pickomino (I still like Heckmeck im Brautweck better as a name)… in this one, you are trying to eat sushi while only just enough fish bones.
  • 24% got this one right... I was wrong.
Bottom row left: Hit Z Road
  • Criminally underappreciated zombie auction game, with some of the most incredible production/graphic design – it’s a game “designed” by a kid who has to take a cross-country trip to dodge the zombie apocalypse and makes a game out of whatever pieces are lying around. The Easter eggs in the design are a lot of fun…
  • …but the game underneath all that coolness is really good as well.
  • 12% got this one right... and it had the best made-up answer: "Shooty lightning ghosts".
Bottom row center: Powerships
  • Again, due to my non-monster status, I accepted Powerboats as a correct answer, since they both use the same die.
  • I like Powerships better… a great push-your-luck racing game with nifty twists and actual strategy.
  • 35% got this one right... but no one guessed Powerships.
Bottom row right: Roll Player (Fiends & Familiars)
  • The most recent custom die in my collection… 
  • I think you need one or both expansions to take Roll Player from good to great.
  • 18% got this one right.

Sunday, August 02, 2020

GenCan't 2020: A Puzzle for Your Enjoyment

This is pretty simple... identify the games that use the custom dice above. 

I'll post the answers tomorrow (August 3rd, 2020).

I ran a contest using this for GenCan't 2020... yes, someone actually got all nine of them correct. This post is just for fun for folks that read my blog.