Monday, November 30, 2020

Happy Christmas! Merry Holidays!

And here's a Christmas classic post from 2011... I figured it's about time I gave a bit of editing and reposted it. 

We all get "those emails" - you know, the ones where you are instructed to either pass the message on or forward it to five friends or whatever. (I've sounded off on this before here on the blog - go back & read my postForward Christian Soldiers.)  

And I got another one today. 
I will be making a conscious effort to wish everyone a Merry Christmas this year... My way of saying that I am celebrating the birth Of Jesus Christ. So I am asking my email buddies, if you agree with me, to please do the same. And if you'll pass this on to your email buddies, and so on... maybe we can prevent one more American tradition from being lost in the sea of "Political Correctness".
You may sit now, as I did, for a moment of stunned silence at this bit of ridiculousness. OK, silent time is over. Elton Trueblood once said: 
“There are those places in ministry and theology that you must draw the line and fight and die; just don’t draw the lines in stupid places!”
Here are three reasons that the above email (and the philosophy behind it) are clearly one of those stupid places: 
  1. Please, please, please... any time you are tempted to use the phrases "celebrate the birth of Jesus Christ" and "American tradition" in the same sentence, you should use some of that cutesy holiday-themed scotch tape to shut your mouth. The celebration of Christ's birth is NOT an American tradition - it's a Christian tradition... and being an American doesn't make you a Christian, any more than walking into McDonald's makes you a hamburger. (Credit to Keith Green for that analogy.)
  2. "Happy Holidays" is not a frontal attack on Christianity... it's an attempt by people (and businesses) to be inoffensive in a season in which there are two major religious holidays (one Christian & one Jewish), one cultural holiday (Kwanzaa), and New Years Day as well.
  3. A methodological problem: email forwards, Facebook status updates, and Tweets tend to go to people who already agree with you - meaning you've created feedback loop of people who become belligerent about the way they wish people "Merry Christmas" because they're sure that everyone who doesn't do the same is opposed to all that is good & right in the world.
I'm not telling you to stop saying "Merry Christmas" - in the words of Reggie McNeal, "Don't hear what I'm not saying." Go right ahead & wish people "Merry Christmas"... you are celebrating the birth of Christ in this season. The sincere hope of those who are followers of Jesus is that more people would discover that for themselves.

However, I do want to give you a few tips in how to fulfill the command of Scripture while you're spreading holiday cheer:
  1. Stop correcting salespeople who are obligated - in order to keep their job! - to say "Happy Holidays". It's not their fault. And arguing with them or chiding them is not going to bring anyone closer to embracing the true meaning of Christmas.
  2. When you say "Merry Christmas", make sure you sound like Bob Crachit rather than Ebenezer Scrooge. Seriously, there are some folks out there who spit the traditional greeting at people like it's a bullet aimed straight at their pitiful heathen hearts. If you can't wish someone "Merry Christmas" with a heart filled with Christlike love, then don't say anything at all.
  3. Remember that the (gosh, I hate this cliche) "reason for the season" is Jesus Christ... not the preservation of tradition or winning the "War on Christmas". The Incarnation is about God clearly & completely expressing His love for us - Immanuel means "God with us". When we are just working to accomplish a cultural agenda, we are communicating the exact opposite message... what we're saying is "if you don't accept my particular way of celebration & the theological beliefs that go along with it, I'll simply stuff it down your throat."
And, since I was a pastor, a Scripture to prove my point:
Be wise in the way you act toward outsiders; make the most of every opportunity. Let your conversation be always full of grace, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how to answer everyone. (Colossian 4:5-6, NIV)
BTW, Merry Christmas!

Monday, November 23, 2020

Mark’s Bundle of 2020 Essen Game Thoughts

Unless otherwise noted, these are FIRST impressions… I only had the opportunity to play each game one time with a physical copy and three of my mask-wearing Opinionated Gamer friends back in mid-October.

I’ve left out the older (read: non-2020) games we played to keep this Essen-focused.

If you’re interested in my Essen (well, post-Essen) impressions from 2018 and 2019, you can find them at the following links.
For those of you who haven’t read a lot of my reviews, they may give you a better insight into my board game tastes and what I’m likely to enjoy. (Which, of course, may or may not line up with your choices.


Pocket Paragons

Fighting card games with multiple decks can be difficult to balance – in this case, it felt like the game had dropped into a near stalemate with the two decks we chose for our one play. Lots of good ideas but it didn’t seem to gel.

Dungeon Drop

This was a really creative idea… but the rules are a bit tough to parse out (and the print incredibly small). Dropping a handful of cubes can easily cause them to end up all over the room (which is not the intention) – and a few of the colors were difficult to differentiate. I need to try again in better lighting conditions with more players.

Pitch Out (2 plays)

A pleasant surprise… a flicking combat game that has interesting decisions and doesn’t overstay its welcome. The storage system is also barriers for pieces to hide behind during play – and they are light enough that you can “shove” them by flicking your pieces against them. I’ll be trying to find a copy of this for my collection.


Monster Expedition (3 plays)

Two plays solo and one play with 4 players… I think it may be strongest with 2-3 players as a multi-player – that would shave off just a little bit of downtime. Solo was great… nice dice puzzle. Mechanics are reminiscent of Heckmeck/Pickomino… but very much its own game.

Lost Ruins of Arnak

At this point, my pick of the show. Granted, I tend to really like the games CGE publishes… but Arnak does a great job of balancing Euro-y resource management with thematic game play. After one play, it looks like there are multiple ways to chase victory. (There’s also built-in replayability through the random set-up and the inclusion of a double-sided board with a second area of the island to explore.) This is a “must buy” for me.

One month later: I've played two more times... and we are ready to play again tonight! It's my pick for KdJ in 2021.

Paleo (5 plays)

It’s a cooperative game of prehistoric survival… with a clever card mechanic that keeps any one player from over-quarterbacking the game and lots of variability thanks to 10 different modules that are used two at a time along with the main deck. The rules are a little tricky to find things in (thanks to wanting to let players experience new things without reading about them in the rules)… but the gameplay was stellar. (As you can probably guess from our five plays – each of which clocked in around 45-50 minutes.)

Strike (2 plays)

This is not a new game… but a nice new edition was just released. It’s just as wonderful as the previous edition. This really is a dice-chucking game with all that implies… and it is possible that one of the players knocked a pip off one of the dice. Literally.

As a big fan of Impact: Battle of Elements, the smaller version of this game, I think Strike is probably the better choice with the sloped walls and bigger tray.


This game about improving working conditions has the typical look & thematic feel of Friedemann’s designs… and the key here is about timing your moves to stay out of sync with the other players while harvesting “relaxation”. Enjoyable with three players… but I’d be afraid of AP with the wrong crowd and/or larger player counts.


Abstract-ish game of island settling in the south Pacific… all the game mechanics worked just fine but it felt a bit like I was rummaging about on the board. I’m not the best source for an opinion on this style of game design, so take what I say with a grain of salt.

Princess Bride Adventure Book Game

Very much an introductory cooperative game… and the theme is a personal favorite. (Knowing the movie definitely adds a bit of joy to playing the game.) With four players, we never felt like we were in real jeopardy – we didn’t have to replay any of the six chapters. We debated if it would be harder with less players, but my one play pretty much is all I need.

Detective: A Modern Crime Board Game – Season One

Modern take on Sherlock Holmes Consulting Detective – I’m not really the audience for this kind of game, but the story was put together well and clues/implications actually were discernible. It does require access to the internet to play (lots of files/clues on the website).


One Small Step

Wonderfully thematic 2 player/team game about the space race… but I’m concerned that the game has pacing issues. (My analogy: the game feels like riding in a stick-shift car with a new driver – sometimes it rockets along and other times it feels like you’re grinding the gears.) It also needs an errata/FAQ to deal with changes in icons and interpreting certain actions.

The Castles of Tuscany

Feld’s newest take on the Castles of Burgundy engine. I liked how quickly it played and the variety of tactical options. However, the score tracks share colors (red & green) with two of the player colors which can cause some confusion. For me, this was a step up from Castles of Burgundy (which I can take or leave).

Blue Skies

The graphic design is extremely austere… but there’s a risk/reward gambling game crossed with some area control that clips along at a good pace. As I’m a friend of the designer, I’m pretty sure he’s already tried all of the potential deviant strategies (don’t worry about passengers and just chase regional bonuses, etc.).

Abandon All Artichokes

A pleasant surprise – a deck destruction game aimed at families with light “take that” elements. The artwork is cute and made me want to sing songs from the Veggie Tales canon. This will be a great game to give to non-gamer families with kids 8+ this Christmas.


Odd blind bidding game that reminds me tangentially of Q.E. I think I cheated by re-using numbers but I still lost.

Ugly Christmas Sweaters

Creative theme for a trick-taking/drafting game with two-suited cards… I wish I’d had a little more control and ability to predict what cards could potentially win each trick.


Infinity Gauntlet: A Love Letter Game

I am not a particularly big fan of Love Letter – I find it more clever than fun. But Infinity Gauntlet uses the Love Letter engine to create a one against many (Thanos vs. the Avengers) game that was really enjoyable. Thanos has a different deck than the players and is attempting to get all six Infinity Stones out so he can do The Snap… while the players are trying to kill him first. (He can also win by defeating the players enough times.) I’d be happy to play this again.

Episode IV

A mish-mash of game mechanics mixed with an homage to game designer Alex Randolph. We played twice to figure out if it made more sense the second time. It didn’t (for me). I think the first three phases are churn leading to a double poker hand “battle of wits”.


Set collecting and dexterity combine in this game of teppanyaki cooking. Players fling poker chips onto the grill to buy & sell ingredients in order to complete recipes. I was lousy at it but enjoyed it a lot. (Looks like this is coming to KS in November.)

Dokitto! Ice

Weird but compelling trick-taking game about eating just enough ice cream. Every trick you take gets you a scoop… but if you take a fourth scoop, you get nothing. You must follow suit – but if you can’t, playing off-suit gives the trick to the lowest card played. Scoring is based on your ice cream scoops and cards you’ve collected (matching is good!). It may be a tad long (at least on the first play), but there’s a real game here with some excellent trick-taking strategy/tactics.

New York Zoo

Uwe Rosenberg’s most recent exploration of how to use polyominoes adds animal collecting with some really cute wooden animal pieces to the mix. The player boards feel a little crowded when filled with animals – some of whom are easier to tip over than others. I’ll need to play again, but I’m not sure I like this better than Patchwork (which does some similar things).


Really impressive design – it’s a “dudes on a map” game that doesn’t use dice and doesn’t cause players to lose pieces from combat. The card drafting system is also very clever and works not only as a way to give players a way to plan ahead but also requires upkeep as you feed your people.

Santa Monica

My first play of this city-building/drafting game… I know it’s been out for months but I hadn’t had the chance to explore the vibe of this very West Coast beach town game. I found it charming… not overwhelmingly great but very fun to play and puzzle over.


Making and painting Portuguese ceramic tiles… a multi-step process that now has its own game. There are a lot of cards here – nearly two decks worth – but it feels like the old single box Adlung Spiele games in using cards in very different ways. I think (at first glance) that painting and shipping tiles is the way to victory… but I’d like to be convinced otherwise.


Cloud City
(2 plays)

The newest game from Phillip Walker-Harding… and, like many of his games, it manages to do some nifty things in a short time period (and without an overwhelming amount of rules). Plus, building the cloud cities looks really cool. I’d agree with Dale’s assessment – this could easily be a contender for Spiel des Jahres next year.

Chicken War

This is a guess the secret identity game with some bluffing & attacking elements… sadly, the production quality was more interesting than the game.


Under Falling Skies

CGE has never published a solo game before… but with one play of the standard game under my belt, I think they know what they’re doing. I had played the original print’n’play version of this game… and they plussed the design/graphics to make it easier to play. And then, about two thirds of the stuff in the box is for a solo campaign game, which looks very interesting at first glance. (An OG review is on the way once I’ve stopped the aliens or welcomed our new planetary overlords.)

One Month Later: I'm now almost halfway through the campaign... I love the twists and the really thoughtful ways they expanded the basic game.

A version of this post originally appeared on the Opinionated Gamers website.

Sunday, November 08, 2020

Fruitcakes, Red Dawn... and "Stealing an Election"

The best man at my wedding (the wonderful Tim Formby, who is substantially more fit at age 56 than I will ever be) grew up in the east Texas town of Corsicana. (If you've heard of Corsicana, it's probably because of Collin Street Bakery... which ships fruitcakes all over the world.)

Kids my age grew up during the Cold War... where pretty much every bad guy on TV shows were Soviet spies and movies like RED DAWN informed our worldview. For Tim & his friends, that meant long discussions about how to defend Corsicana in case of the U.S.S.R. sending troops to invade the U.S. of A. Questions like "which bridges get blown up?" and "how do we cache the proper weapons?" led to plans, notes, and even hand-drawn maps. 

I bring up this bit of semi-ancient history to ask for the same kind of thoughtfulness from those who are supporting President Trump in questioning the legitimacy of the election results. I know that presenting well-researched fact checks doesn't seem to quell their doubts, so I'm hoping this might assist. (If you do want to look at reporting on these issues, I'd suggest The Dispatch Fact Check.)

Here's what I propose... grab a piece of paper and write out a detailed plan for stealing the presidential election. Take into account what would need to be done and who would need to be involved. List all of the different county, state, and federal entities that would need to be compromised in some format to explain margins of 20,000+ votes in multiple contested states. Determine what kind of expertise you would need and what kind of resources & communications protocols would be necessary. 

Operational security is going to be an important consideration - how are you going to keep all of those involved from leaking information and/or getting caught? The more individuals that are a part of the conspiracy, the more difficult this will be. If you choose to operate in individual cells to foster secrecy, you will need to account for coordination and control.

Chuck Colson, Richard Nixon's hatchet man who became a follower of Christ and the founder of Prison Fellowship, noted that his belief in the resurrection of Jesus Christ was supported by his experience inside a cabal around the President.
“I know the resurrection is a fact, and Watergate proved it to me. How? Because 12 men testified they had seen Jesus raised from the dead, then they proclaimed that truth for 40 years, never once denying it. Every one was beaten, tortured, stoned and put in prison. They would not have endured that if it weren't true. Watergate embroiled 12 of the most powerful men in the world-and they couldn't keep a lie for three weeks. You're telling me 12 apostles could keep a lie for 40 years? Absolutely impossible.”
I'm guessing by now you have a lot of notes (and your plan is unlikely to involve blowing up any bridges). This leads to an important philosophical principle (which I've posted about earlier this year): Occam's Razor. The Latin aphorism is commonly rendered as "the simplest explanation is most likely the right one."

So, does your plan make sense? Is it plausible? Moreover, is it inside the realm of possibility outside of an X-Files episode? 

I am not doubting that there are irregularities in the voting process and even occasional attempts to steal elections. (The most recent major attempt was done on behalf of a Republican candidate in North Carolina.) But none of those are large enough or expansive enough to explain the result of the 2020 presidential election. In the words of one of my favorite L.A. bands, Adam Again:
When I touch you with Occam's razor
I will cut you between truth and lie
Meanwhile, talking about Collin Street Bakery reminds me of how good the pastries are at their retail store in Corsicana. And writing about Tim makes me want to get Fortress America (the board game) to the table again.

Tuesday, November 03, 2020

How To Get Tossed Out of a Gaming Group: 2020 Edition

This post was originally written for Election Day in 2008... and I present it again with some edits because it still applies. BTW, If you haven't voted yetwhat are you doing reading this blog?!

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

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

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

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

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

Regardless (or is that "irregardless"?), you have the opportunity tonight to respond with grace & dignity.
  • If your side/candidate wins, don't gloat.
  • If your side/candidate loses, don't whine. Don't accuse others of cheating without real & obvious cause... using an actual standard of proof, not "the President said it" or "somebody posted this on Facebook." (Background reading from The Dispatch and Politico may be helpful here.)
I want to speak specifically to those who declare themselves as followers of Christ. We have a huge responsibility tonight - if we're gonna call ourselves "biblical Christians", then we better live like it when it comes to election results.
Be wise in the way you act toward outsiders; make the most of every opportunity. Let your conversation be always full of grace, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how to answer everyone. (Colossians 4:5-6, NIV)
if someone asks about your Christian hope, always be ready to explain it. But do this in a gentle and respectful way. Keep your conscience clear. Then if people speak against you, they will be ashamed when they see what a good life you live because you belong to Christ. (1 Peter 3:15-16, NLT)
The most important thing today is not the election of a particular candidate - no one person will usher in the Kingdom of God. (Well, one will, but He's not running this year.) Nor is it the passing of a proposition - law can compel moral behavior but it has no power over the heart. It is far more important that the world around us see followers of Jesus living in the grace & power of Jesus Christ.

Note: I am preaching this sermon to myself most of all.