Sunday, April 14, 2024

#56: Royal Turf (Mark's Top 100 2024)


Royal Turf

  • rank: 408
  • rating: 6.9
  • published: 2001
  • designer: Reiner Knizia
Print Status
  • very out of print
Why It's On The List
  • Another great example of Knizia using math to make fun instead of dry as dust slogs (I'm looking at you, Auf Heller und Pfennig/Kingdoms.) It's horse racing with actual gambling & great levels of player involvement. It plays well with 4-6 players and I've never had a dull game of Royal Turf.
Tips & Tricks:
  • Play with the "zero"/bluff bet variant & face-down bets. Trust me on this one.
  • If you're in the lead, make sure your bets are on the better odds horses... and with the players who are closest to you in score.
  • If you're behind, leave the leader on his own on a couple of horses. (This takes working together... which doesn't always happen.)
Extras
  • There have been three versions of the game - my favorite is Royal Turf, but Winner's Circle may be easier to find.
  • Here's what I wrote about Royal Turf for The One Hundred.

Saturday, April 13, 2024

#57: Bärenpark (Mark's Top 100 2024)


Bärenpark 
BoardGameGeek
  • rank: 369
  • rating: 7.3
  • published: 2017
  • designer: Phil Walker-Harding
Print Status
  • in print
Why It's On The List
  • It's a very-straightforward tile-laying game that can be give a lot of layers (esp. by using the expansion) or kept simple, straightforward, and very family-friendly with the base game.
Tips & Tricks:
  • Like many game where players draft from a common pool, timing is extremely important.
  • As well, this is a game that rewards the Tetris-y spatial skills of looking at a piece and being able to mentally flip it about to find the optimal placement.
  • The addition of the goals (both from the base game and the expansion) vary up the mental puzzle really well.
Extras
  • The storage solution in the base game is, well... not very good. I love the Folded Space insert I bought that fits both the base game and The Bad News Bears expansion into the box.
  • The expansion adds extra goals, an additional piece of land per player for building, grizzly bear enclosures, and tramways. I think the tramways here are much better implemented than in the designer's Cloud City game.

Friday, April 12, 2024

#58: 7 Wonders Duel (Mark's Top 100 2024)


7 Wonders Duel

  • rank: 19
  • rating: 8.1
  • published: 2015
  • designer: Antoine Bauza & Bruno Cathala
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 (commercial) 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.
Extras
  • The picture above includes the excellent Pantheon expansion... and there is second (also excellent) Agora expansion. I've never played them at the same time, as one son like Pantheon and the other likes Agora.
  • There's a print'n'play solo mode that works - but there are better solo games out there (and on this list).
  • The app 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.

Thursday, April 11, 2024

#59: Harry's Grand Slam Baseball (Mark's Top 100 2024)

Harry's Grand Slam Baseball

  • rank: 7,028
  • rating: 6.3
  • published: 1962
  • designer: Harry Obst
Print Status
  • sadly OOP
Why It's On The List
  • It captures the feel of a baseball game - and does so in 15 minutes (or less). The Out of the Box production is very nice as well.
Tips & Tricks:
    • Use Fly Out cards when there aren't any runners on base.
    • There's luck of the draw - of course - but proper card management and taking the right risks also helps. And... it's only 15 minutes long.
    • This is a tremendous filler game.
    Extras
    • This game lends itself to playoffs/tournaments at gaming weekends - games are short enough to be held between "real" games.
    • The story behind Harry's Grand Slam Baseball is fascinating... listen to Mark Johnson's "Boardgames To Go" podcast on it for more information.

    Wednesday, April 10, 2024

    #60: Catan: Starfarers (Mark's Top 100 2024)


    Catan: Starfarers
      • rank: 1,706
      • rating: 7.6
      • published: 2019
      • designer: Klaus Teuber
      Print Status
      • in print
      Why It's On The List
      • As a long-time fan of the original Starfarers of Catan, I was nervous about the redevelopment of the game. I shouldn't have worried - it left everything I liked about the game while streamlining play and shortening playing time. 
      Tips & Tricks:
        • Pushing to be far ahead on any spaceship piece (guns, engines, cargo pods) not only helps you to accomplish certain goals, it also can hinder the success of other players when they have to face an event card.
        • Building a spaceport mid-board can drastically speed up your progress (and the game!).
        • Like all Catan games, initial placement is key. 
        Extras
        • So, what changed to make me add this to my top 100 list?
          • The map - using six puzzle cut boards with gaps for planet clusters and trading posts gives the game a LOT more variation than the original design - maps can be laid out specifically or randomly. And while the map is the same size (15 hexes long by 9 hexes wide), moving the trading posts into the map and rearranging the other openings makes the game develop faster.
          • The components - gone are the rickety/fragile starships from the original game (that were so breakable that they required a retrofit from the company)... in their place are smaller but sturdier ships. In addition, the nice Catan folks provided extra plastic "marbles" for the shaker portion of the ships, so you can change the mix in each one for a faster or slower game.
            • It's important to note that the suggested mix makes encounters slightly less likely.
          • The starting planets - it doesn't sound like much, but there are no pure 2 or 12 planets in the starting mix. Instead, there is a 3/12 chip and a 2/11 chip.
          • The rules - a number of rules tweaks were added that make the gamer run faster:
            • after a roll of 7 (and the subsequent stealing), each player besides the thief draws a card from the reserve pile
            • the first contact with any planet cluster flips over all of the number chips
            • the resolution of trade post is now simply "longest road" style
            • the largest pirate lair is slightly easier to defeat
        • All of the noted changes make for a much faster game - we are knocking out three player games in approximately 75-80 minutes.
        • My sons gave me the New Encounters expansion for Christmas - so far, we've only played the Amoeba scenario... but it's a nice twist and only added about 10 minutes to the playing time.
        • I still have my resin alien figures from the original edition... love those little guys!
        • This is Klaus Teuber's third of five game designs on my top 100 for 2024.

        Tuesday, April 09, 2024

        #61: Fresco (Mark's Top 100 2024)


        Fresco
          • rank: 286
          • rating: 7.30
          • published: 2010
          • designers: Wolfgang Panning, Marco Ruskowski, and Marcel Süßelbeck
          Print Status
          • out of 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.
            Extras
            • 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
                • I don't think I've played any of these yet (but I've slept a couple of times since my last game of Fresco with a completionist). 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. :-)

            Monday, April 08, 2024

            #62: Showmanager (Mark's Top 100 2024)


            Showmanager

            • rank: 2,057
            • rating: 7.0
            • published: 1996
            • designer: Dirk Henn
            Print Status
            • out of print
            Why It's On The List
            • A wonderful card-drafting game that whips along at a breakneck pace and offers a consistently enjoyable gaming experience as the players cast (and miscast) theater productions.
            Tips & Tricks:
            • You don't have to be a card counter to do well - but it is good to know what "9" cards are remaining in each show.
            • You do not have enough money - so you're going to have to accept that one of your four shows is going to be, well, a flop.
            • Use your flop show to borrow money - a common tactic is put on a flop, put it in the lowest point value city & then take the maximum amount of money out of the show.
            Extras
            • While I'm very glad there is a reprint available (though it's OOP as well), I do want to note that the two included variants are not necessary to enjoy the game.
            • Thankfully, the truly inferior version of the game (Atlantic Star) is out of print. 
            • And, no, I haven't ever played the original version, Premiere.
            • Showmanager scales really well for 3-6 players... I'm least fond of 4 but it still works well.
            • Here's what I wrote about Showmanager for The One Hundred.

            Sunday, April 07, 2024

            #63: Vegas Showdown (Mark's Top 100 2024)


            Vegas Showdown

            • rank: 796
            • rating: 7.2
            • published: 2005
            • designer: Henry Stern
            Print Status
            • in print
            Why It's On The List
            • This is the best implementation of the climbing auction mechanic first seen in Evo, then in the (excruciating, IMHO) Amun-Re, and more recently in 20th Century. I also like the need to plan what rooms you'll add to your Vegas resort... and in what order to build them.
            Tips & Tricks:
              • There are a variety of winning building configurations/mixes - your mission is to choose the one that best dodges what other players are doing... .
              • ...and then make it expensive for other players to get their "key" rooms.
              Extras
              • While the graphics for this one are generally good, I do wish the player boards in the original edition had been mounted. If someone reprints this (hint, hint, Renegade Game Studio friends - who is doing that sometime soon), they should take care of that AND of adding some tokens in to track "extra" victory points. (We use glass beads to track points that are not found on the player boards - that way, you can check & make sure you haven't missed any points during the game.).

              Saturday, April 06, 2024

              #64: Keltis: Der Weg der Steine Mitbringspiel (Mark's Top 100 2024)


              Keltis: Der Weg der Steine Mitbringspiel

              • rank: 3,711
              • rating: 6.4
              • published: 2009
              • designer: Reiner Knizia
              Print Status
              • out of print
              Why It's On The List
              • The most straightforward of the Lost Cities/Keltis family - and incredibly portable.
              Tips & Tricks:
                • When playing with 3 or 4 players, don't start lines in all five colors.
                • It's easy to forget about blarney stones in your first game - don't. The penalty for going short on them is steep.
                • In German, the name means "the way of the stones." The "Mitbringspiel" is a rough equivalent of our "travel games" - it literally means "bring with game".
                Extras
                • It's not that I dislike Lost Cities or Keltis or Lost Cities: The Board Game... it's just that I like this one so much better.
                • This was republished as Lost Cities To Go in 2018... but I've never actually seen a physical copy of it.
                • Since the publication of Der Weg der Steine, there have been other very good Lost Cities family games... my favorite of the newer bunch is the Lost Cities Roll'n'Write.
                • This is the fourth of seven (7!) games designed by Reiner Knizia on this countdown.

                Friday, April 05, 2024

                Reconstructing My Faith: A Question, The Rapture, And Dreaming of Escape

                A Question

                Back in 2006, I had a very strange pastoral day - which, if you'll ask any pastor, is kind of a regular feature of the job.

                A lady who attended another church in town stopped by my office & asked me for help. She apologized for bothering me when I was busy... but wanted to know if I could give her a "real short explanation of the book of Revelation." Hmmm....
                 
                I managed to keep the answer down to 5 minutes, which definitely isn't time for much in the way of detail:
                • letters to churches (chapters 1-3)
                • things are gonna get worse before they better... and everybody & his brother has an opinion on how that's going to work - some are more detailed (read: specific charts, timelines & battle plans) than others... and I'm one of those "less details, more big picture" kind of guys when it comes to this subject (chapters 4-19)
                • things will get better (chapters 20-22)
                For those wondering - yes, I'm still unclear why she came to me rather than her own pastor (who was/is a great guy.)

                Then Shari came home and said she had been hearing ads on one of our local Christian radio stations for a service that will e-mail your pagan friends who are not raptured when the rapture comes. I googled and found www.youvebeenleftbehind.com (the site is thankfully dead now). Seriously, that was the name of it. (I figure Larry Norman was spinning in his grave at someone profiting off his song in such a cheeseball way.)  
                 
                My reaction: "If we love people who don't follow Jesus so darn much, why not do something about it now rather than spamming them from heaven?"

                The Rapture

                A few years later, as the Harold Camping end of the world nonsense metastasized, I found myself looking more carefully at my own history and the theological assumptions I'd grown up with. (Note: I don't want to get into the details of Camping's prediction - they're the usual mess of numerology, Scripture-twisting & outright nonsense... which, when they failed, caused him to talk about the "spiritual" end of the world... and then finally to admit that he was flat out wrong.)

                As I've noted before, I grew up in Southern California in the 1970s, back when it was one of the great gathering places for Jesus Movement folks - Calvary Chapel was king & Chuck Smith (their pastor) was a gifted speaker who spent a lot of time on the sure return of Jesus Christ. One of the guys who led my youth group Bible study was an ex-hippie who came to Jesus & was a big part of a "Jesus Music" band - and he was also very into teaching & talking about the End Times.

                You see, evangelical culture was flooded with books (The Late Great Planet Earth was the most notable), films (I still run into people who were profoundly influenced and/or scared by "Thief in the Night"), and music (Larry Norman's "I Wish We'd All Been Ready" was popular - long before DC Talk covered the tune or LaHaye & Jenkins ripped off a line to title their fiction series) about the Rapture.

                Remember, it was the 1970s: Watergate, the fallout from the Sexual Revolution, the loss of the Vietnam War, the energy crisis - complete with gas rationing, the 1973 Arab-Israeli War, etc. It was pretty easy to convince folks that life was getting worse & a one-way ticket out of here was an incredibly desirable thing - esp. if the destination was eternity with God.

                Notice that the fervor for this kind of thing began to ebb as circumstances got better - reaching a real low point for the End Times business when the perennial favorite for the "Who is Gog & Magog?" contest (see Revelation 20) - the Soviet Union - went belly up in 1989.

                But the flames were fanned again with the release of the "Left Behind" book series... and movies... and young adult book series... and one begins to wonder whether the primary motivation is theological or financial. (My personal critique of the Left Behind series? In short: "badly written dialogue, cardboard cut-out characters in an interesting plot... but undercut by the need to shoehorn in the author's very detailed premillenial dispensationalist view of Bible prophecy.")

                Of course, there's been a long history of prophecies (check out the website A Brief History of the Apocalypse for that long, sad lineage) about the end of the world, both inside & outside Christianity... 

                OK, enough history. With that particular theological context growing up, I'd always just assumed that the Chick Tract/Left Behind/Thief in the Night storyline was the only or best way to interpret the Scriptures.

                But with some research, I kept running into the inescapable fact that the "doctrine" of the Rapture (as we know it) pretty much started in the 19th century with the teachings of John Darby (pretty much the father of dispensational theology) & C.I. Scofield (who published the Scofield Chain Reference Bible, which put Darby's theology on the same page as the Scriptures in the form of footnotes). So, the Rapture is a theological belief that's a little more than 150 years old.

                New isn't necessarily bad... but when it comes to theology, it's always possible that something "new" simply means folks pulled stuff out of context to come up with their belief system... so I found myself struggling with what I believe about the Rapture - but, then again, I've always struggled with what I believe about the End Times. Not about the sure return of Christ or that God will reign... but with the nitty-gritty details of what will happen when and the tendency of some believers to want a "map" of how it's all gonna go down.

                Am I saying there won't be a Rapture? No. Is it possible that the return of Christ (the Second Coming) and the Rapture will occur at the same time? Yes. Do I know this for sure? Absolutely not.

                Here's my two cents - this particular issue (the Rapture) can NOT be one of those theological hills that we chose to fight to the death for... the divinity of Christ, the truth of the Resurrection, the inspired nature of Scripture - yes, these fundamental beliefs are worth everything we have.

                But a particular brand of End Times theology is not worth our time & energy. Since we acknowledge that "no man knows the day or the hour" (Matthew 24:36) and that appearance of the Lord will be "like a thief in the night" (1st Thessalonians 5:2), we do a horrendous disservice to those in need of Jesus' saving grace by focusing inordinate amounts of attention & emotion on fighting with each other over signs & interpretations.

                You & I may not agree completely on what will happen at the end of time - but I once again would suggest that our call to evangelize & disciple, to serve & minister in the name of Christ is substantially more important than convincing someone of our particular eschatology.

                The Escape Hatch

                Let me be clear - all of the "reconstructing" I wrote about concerning the Rapture & the End Times occurred 12+ years ago. So what does that have to do with my faith right now?

                Well, I've come to the realization that I am always looking for ways to cope with the struggles of life... and the current chaos of our political and cultural climate makes an escape hatch particularly tempting. Like I wrote back in the day, the Rapture looks like a pretty good theological idea when you think the world is in free fall.
                .
                Douglas Rushkoff wrote (in his book, Get Back in the Box) that:
                In extreme cases, like fundamentalist religious or political stories, the chaos of any given moment becomes an indication of some great impending apocalypse when justice will be done. I've seen cheeky bumper stickers that read: "In case of rapture, this car will be empty." The passengers are literally looking forward to that scenario. When we are addicted to stories with endings, we'd prefer Armageddon to no ending at all.
                I think, at some level, that's what is happening to many evangelical followers of Christ right now - seduced by fear-mongering news sources and fueled by those claiming to speak for God, they are tempted to buy into a persecution narrative that leads inexorably to excusing, minimizing, and/or even participating in things like this...



                ...or pictures like this (life-sized sticker of the current president hogtied in the back of a pickup truck) being posted by a presidential candidate:


                Political fervor and tribalism has become an escape hatch... a way to run away from the difficulties of a multicultural society full of people who desperately need the love of Christ. Rather than obeying the Biblical commands to "conduct yourself with wisdom in your interactions with outsiders (non-believers), make the most of each opportunity [treating it as something precious]" (Colossians 4:5 AMP) and to "always be ready to offer a defense, humbly and respectfully, when someone asks why you live in hope" (1 Peter 3:15 VOICE), the tendency is to lean into sloganeering, idolatry, and raw abuse of power.


                There's a temptation - documented by Russell Moore in conversations with pastors - to give up on the words & example of Jesus and instead invest your time, talents, and treasure in uplifting a strong man to fight for you and/or choose to focus on fighting yourself.

                It was the result of having multiple pastors tell me, essentially, the same story about quoting the Sermon on the Mount, parenthetically, in their preaching — "turn the other cheek" — [and] to have someone come up after to say, "Where did you get those liberal talking points?" And what was alarming to me is that in most of these scenarios, when the pastor would say, "I'm literally quoting Jesus Christ," the response would not be, "I apologize." The response would be, "Yes, but that doesn't work anymore. That's weak." And when we get to the point where the teachings of Jesus himself are seen as subversive to us, then we're in a crisis.

                 I'll note that (as David French so aptly put it) "one doesn’t comply with the command to “love your enemies” by hiring someone to hate them for you."

                -----

                Relentless cynicism and disengagement can be an escape hatch as well - especially for those of us tempted to disassociate ourselves from theological and political viewpoints we find repugnant. It's all too easy to bury our heads in the sand, to stay silent in the face of subtle (and sometimes not-so-subtle) pressure to hunker down and "stop rockin' the boat." This could be about politics, theology, ethics, or simply evidencing the fruit of the Spirit (Galatians 5:22-23 AMP):
                But the fruit of the Spirit [the result of His presence within us] is love [unselfish concern for others], joy, [inner] peace, patience [not the ability to wait, but how we act while waiting], kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control. Against such things there is no law.
                Thinking about the gnawing desire to disengage from the world around me, I was reminded of the lyrics of Steve Taylor's "Since I Gave Up Hope, I Feel A Lot Better":

                Life unwinds like a cheap sweater
                But since I gave up hope I feel a lot better
                And the truth gets blurred like a wet letter
                But since I gave up hope I feel a lot better
                While the world winds down to a final prayer
                Nothing soothes quicker than complete despair
                I predict by dinner I won't even care
                Since I gave up hope I feel a lot better
                And this cartoon by Dan Pegoda:


                I feel this temptation in my bones - and I'm thankful for the examples of folks like David French & Russell Moore who haven't given up and/or given in to bitterness. 

                Moreover, I find myself clinging to the words of  Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn:
                Let your credo be this: Let the lie come into the world, let it even triumph. But not through me.

                 -----

                Our desire for escape from the stresses and fears of this world - whether into tribal politics, cynical detachment, accumulation of possessions and power, or hedonistic indulgence - is so much less than what God intends for us. Erwin McManus (in his book, Chasing Daylight) says it well:

                Our pop theology has eliminated the place for risk and insulated us with a comfort-and-security theology. This view runs counter to what is found in the Scriptures. I want to reiterate the fact that the center of God’s will is not a safe place, but the most dangerous place in the world. God fears nothing and no one. God moves with intentionality and power. To live outside God’s will puts us in danger, but to live in His will makes us dangerous.

                Mike Yaconelli wrote something similar in his book, Dangerous Wonder:
                I want a lifetime of holy moments. Every day I want to be in dangerous proximity to Jesus. I long for a life that explodes with meaning and is filled with adventure, wonder, risk, and danger. I long for a faith that is gloriously treacherous. I want to be with Jesus, not knowing whether to cry or laugh.

                Those both sound a lot better than longing for an escape hatch - even couched in spiritual language and Biblical imagery.



                #65: The Quest for El Dorado (Mark's Top 100 2024)


                The Quest for El Dorado

                • rank: 121
                • rating: 7.7
                • published: 2017
                • designer: Reiner Knizia
                Print Status
                • in print
                Why It's On The List
                • Reiner Knizia turns his adept design talent to deck-building... and makes a racing game that manages to stay tense throughout, offer a variety of interesting (and clever) tactical decisions, and be enjoyable with both gamers and non-gamers.
                Tips & Tricks:
                  • Add the caves into the game after your first play - they offer some difficult choices as well as helping deal with overcrowding at choke points.
                  • Players often undervalue the usefulness of gold... both for movement through villages and for purchasing higher valued cards that make a big difference in the end game.
                  • Learn to look at the board to figure out the "rhythm" of when you'll need various kinds of cards - sections of the board may have a preponderance of one type of terrain and/or high numbered terrain (3s & 4s) that force you to take a different route. Planning ahead will make a difference!
                  Extras
                  • The Heroes & Hexes expansion is excellent... highly recommended.
                  • The Golden Temples expansion is actually a stand-alone game that can be combined with the base game and Heroes & Hexes to make some truly crazy maps.
                  • There is an excellent set of maps available on BGG.
                  • This is the third of seven (7!) Reiner Knizia games on my top 100 list.
                  • Weirdly enough, I graduated from El Dorado High School.

                  Thursday, April 04, 2024

                  #66: Thebes (Mark's Top 100 2024)


                  Thebes
                    BoardGameGeek
                    • rank: 663
                    • rating: 7.1
                    • published: 2007
                    • designer: Peter Prinz
                    Print Status
                    • in print
                    Why It's On The List
                    • One of the best example of a game design integrating theme & mechanics - drawing tiles from the bag "feels" like archaeology. As well, the use of the "time cost" mechanic makes the game fluid & gives each player a plethora of tactical options.
                    Tips &Tricks:
                    • The tile bags are a marked improvement over the card decks from the original version of this game, Jenseits von Theben.
                    • If you're not going to collect the lecture series cards, just make sure no other person hoards them - that's some big points out there on the rubber chicken circuit.
                    • I like to jump out with one or two quick expeditions to harvest a few easy artifacts (and have a variety of colors for the various exhibitions) - but there's something to be said for making sure you have a couple of assistants & shovels before you do any serious digging.
                    • Don't forget about the bonuses for highest level of research into each site!
                    Extras

                    Wednesday, April 03, 2024

                    Manhandling the Word of Truth


                    To be accurate, the former president is not selling Bibles - he's simply licensing his name & image through the same company (CIC Ventures LLC) that licensed Trump Trading Cards & his Never Surrender High-Top Sneaker to a company selling a King James Version of the Bible with an American flag embossed on the cover and the texts of foundational U.S. government documents included.

                    Because nothing says "God so loved the world" (John 3:16) like branding Scripture with American symbols and documents. Note: "CIC Ventures, though, is a conduit to Trump — personally, if not politically. In his financial disclosure released last year, he’s identified as the company’s “manager, president, secretary and treasurer” and the Donald J. Trump Revocable Trust is identified as a 100 percent owner of the business. The same entity also receives royalties from his book “A MAGA Journey” and speaking engagements. A person familiar with the agreement confirmed to the New York Times that Trump earns royalties from purchases." (Source: Washington Post)

                    ----- I've written about politicians and accurately handling the word of truth before:

                    • former vice-president Mike Pence - ""So let’s run the race marked out for us. Let’s fix our eyes on Old Glory and all she represents."
                    • President Joe Biden - "The American military has been answering for a long time. “Here I am, Lord. Send me. Here I am, send me.”"
                    • Governor Ron DeSantis - "Put on the full armor of God. Stand firm against the left’s schemes. You will face flaming arrows, but if you have the shield of faith, you will overcome them, and in Florida we walk the line here."
                    Suffice it to say that I get the need to use rhetorical flourish and echo classic passages of literature to evoke emotion. But we as followers of Christ 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). The things Mike Pence & Joe Biden & Ron DeSantis said was not accurately handling Scripture.

                    What the former President has done and is doing makes them look like amateurs at the abuse of God's Word.

                    -----

                    Mr. Trump has a spotted history when it comes to both hucksterism and the use/abuse of the Bible as a prop. He's managed to brand and/or sell almost anything that isn't nailed down - some highlights include Trump Steaks, Trump University, Trump Vodka, and Trump: The Game. If you want to see more, the Wikipedia article on the Trump Organization has a very long list.

                    As for his use of Scripture...

                    • "Two Corinthians" (which he blamed Tony Perkins for... who in return noted that "It shows that he’s not familiar with Bible.")
                    • Signing Bibles... and other things (just read the article... which, even from Fox News, does manage to cover the outrage pretty well even as they indulge in a bit of whataboutism) 
                    • posing with a Bible (thanks to a suggestion from his daughter) in front of St. John's Church - minutes after protestors had been forcibly cleared from the street with tear gas and pepper balls
                      • And, yes, I'm aware that there is conflicting reports about the orders to clear Lafayette Square that night of protestors responding to the death of George Floyd... but it was still a photo op with a Bible as a prop.


                    This newest grift - endorsing Lee Greenwood's God Bless The USA Bible - is sadly par for the course.

                    -----

                    The reaction to the release of Trump's endorsement during Holy Week provoked a - shall we say? - strong reaction.


                    The former president once claimed that "Nobody has done more for Christianity or for evangelicals or for religion itself than I have..." - but if memes like the ones shared above are any indicator, the main thing he's accomplished is to drive people away from faith.

                    The frustration isn't simply limited to The Daily Show and meme-happy Facebook friends... it extends to devoted followers of Christ as well.



                    I found it equally sobering to think about what a grift like this does to further erode the moral sense of those who've chosen to follow the former president.
                    ...Clips like the one above make a certain sort of shrewd strategic sense.

                    That seems counterintuitive since many Christians will recoil from it, and Trump can’t afford to alienate Christian voters seven months out from an election. But I suspect that any evangelical who’d hold a little light grifting involving the Holy Bible against him is already long gone, wandering in the Never Trump desert with the likes of David French and Russell Moore.

                    And Trump is fine with that. His first political priority, even above maximizing his chances of reelection, is purging the Republican Party of anyone who would question his right to rule. He doesn’t want independent-minded Christians in the GOP any more than he wants the traditional conservatives who preferred Nikki Haley in the primary. He’ll win without them—and if he can’t, he’ll at least have consolidated his power over one-half of America’s political establishment in the process.

                    In that context, whether by design or by happenstance, the “Trump Bible” operates as a sort of litmus test for evangelicals who have stuck with him this far through thick and thin. You won’t abandon me if I make a mockery of your faith, will you? No, of course you won’t.

                    I see it as an analog to the point he made in 2016 when he boasted that he could shoot someone without losing votes. The reaction of Republican primary voters to the four indictments filed against him last year essentially vindicated that boast; go figure that if they’re willing to indulge him in crimes, he might reasonably assume that they’re willing to indulge him in brazen sacrilege aimed at lining his pockets amid a cash crunch.

                    It’s a loyalty test, as practically everything in a cult of personality is. He’s testing their faith—in him, not in Christianity. And insofar as those two faiths conflict, he expects them to choose more wisely than the Frenches and Moores of the world have. Those who refuse will find the doorway to exile from the Republican Party that-a-way.

                    Hawking Bibles emblazoned with an American flag during an election season suggests he’s very confident about how they’ll choose.

                    I don’t blame him.
                    Nick Cattagio ("The True Faith" - sadly behind a paywall)
                    -----
                    Christians are under siege but must protect content that is pro-God. We love God, and we have to protect anything that is pro-God. We must defend God in the public square and not allow the media or the Left-wing groups to silence, censor, or discriminate against us.
                    (quote from the Trump endorsement of the God Bless The USA Bible)
                    I need to push back just a little bit against this... I am a Christian and I don't feel particularly "under siege". The same week this video was released (yes, Holy Week), I actually managed to share Scripture multiple times on Facebook. In an online group of friends (both Christian and non-Christian) counting down our favorite albums, I posted music videos from Common Hymnal, Steve Taylor, and Adam Again (all Christian artists) without nary a peep of protest. I drove without being stopped or hassled to church twice - once on Good Friday and again on Easter Sunday. In both of those services, the truth of Christ's crucifixion and resurrection were clearly taught and sung about. Here in my office where I'm typing this, I count eight Bibles and multiple commentaries in my line of vision.

                    I have not been silenced, censored, or discriminated against for my faith - well, except when the things I believed were true to Scripture and the character of Christ were attacked and undercut by [checks notes] other Christians.

                    -----

                    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 (and physical Bibles themselves) being used as props... by both political parties.

                    So, I once again 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)

                    #67: Eminent Domain (Mark's Top 100 2024)


                    Eminent Domain

                    BoardGameGeek
                    • rank: 812
                    • rating: 7.0
                    • published: 2011
                    • designer: Seth Jaffee
                    Print Status
                    • out of print - but not difficult to find a copy (see potential good news at the end of the post)
                    Why It's On The List
                    • Eminent Domain is tighter & quicker than another space-themed deck-builder/tableau-builder hybrid, 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 advances.
                    • 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.
                    Extras
                    • 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.
                    • Good news... it looks like Rio Grande Games will be re-publishing Eminent Domain!

                    Tuesday, April 02, 2024

                    #68: Voidfall (Mark's Top 100 2024)


                    Voidfall

                    • rank: 231
                    • rating: 8.6
                    • published: 2023
                    • designer: Nigel Buckle & Dávid Turczi
                    Print Status
                    • in print
                    Why It's On The List
                    • Normally, I’d balk at a game with a non-random combat system and heavy intertwined mechanisms – but the theme of defeating the Voidborn is so tightly woven into the design & flow of the game that I find myself lost in the world and the puzzle of trying to expand my civilization’s capabilities whilst fending off the encroachment of mind-altering evil. 
                    Tips & Tricks:
                      • You have to know two things about this game going in: first, there's a LOT going on and it's going to be overwhelming. Second, for as heavy as it is, it's not a tremendously long game - 2 hours as a solo game and 3 hours or so as a two player competitive game.
                      • I don't care if you're the savviest gamer in town, you should NOT skip playing the tutorial. It's an actual game with an excellent guardrail system that gives you a pretty full tour of the complex game system without sending you down a railroaded pathway.
                      • It takes a bit to get used to the combat system. Remember: the "battles" in this game are multi-year wars, not a single battle. (It's a highly abstracted and non-random system... but it works well in the context of the game.)
                      • All but one of my plays of Voidfall have been solo - and that system (which is similar to the cooperative system) works like a charm.
                      Extras
                      • The copy pictured is the Galactic edition - which has cool miniatures and lots of other bling. The underlying game engine is strong enough not to need the bells & whistles.
                      • This is the first of four games on this countdown with design work from Dávid Turczi and the first of two games from Nigel Buckle.