Back and Ready to Go! Gamers Unite!

                It has been a while since my last post, but I am back! 

                As for the why I’ve been gone, it’s a combination of moving, illness, and our new daughter Kylie being born.  Everything came together to form a whirlwind that caused me to lose a little bit of focus and I wasn’t always doing the thing that gave me life, like this blog.  But I’m refocused and back.

                One thing that has hanged with the move and such is that there has been less time to game. Between preparing the new house and taking care of the four kids (two human and two dog) we either don’t make the time or we are so wiped out that when the question is asked “want to play a game?” the answer is mostly “my brain is fried and I’m exhausted… can we do something else?  Like sleep?”  Yet we have found time to play some Castle Panic, Deception: Murder in Hong Kong, Love Letter, and more. 

                Mainly though I have been playing more video games – either Suikoden 3 or Fire Emblem Awakening – or I have been playing board game apps on my phone.  This is only more true as off yesterday when I went and got the Humble Bundle and received Ticket to Ride, San Juan, Catan, Carcassone, and more for my phone for only $5.  So help some worthwhile charities and get some games, the deal is on for 5 more days!

                While I have been enjoying these games, I also find myself missing something.  It’s pretty easy to put a finger on, it’s human interaction.  Even playing online, I miss being in the same room playing games with my friends and family.  These games are not just games, but they are vehicles towards building relationships and creating memories.  I think back to college and all the games of Risk we played and winning in just a few turns because everyone foolishly let me gain control of Asia in the second round and LET ME KEEP IT!  MUAHAHAHA!  Or some brothers and I playing Madden so much, spending entire days on drafts let alone actual games, that the other brothers hit the game under the TV. 

                Lately I’ve been able to build new memories, such as playing Codenames so loudly with the church council in the hotel room for our retreat that the neighbors starting banging on the walls or my nephew Xander completely schooling all of us adults at Deception.  Each memory and each moment a time of shared laughter or frustration, a bond uniting us together.  Games have the ability to make us work together or dig deep in our abilities to fool and challenge each other.  Games make us think as well as examine one another to see motivations and try to plan ahead.  Games unite, both in our relationships with each other and in the community of gamers that strive to bring healing to this world, whether through humble bundles or the Jack Vasel Memorial Fund, or Child’s Play, or a myriad of other charities created by gamers to bring hope into the world. 

                So I’m glad to be back.  Look forward to more reviews and more devotions.  What are some of your favorite memories of games?  Let me know and I might just share some of them.    

GenCon #2 – Welcome to the Dungeon

And she lives!
Hey, who wants to go through a dungeon?  It will be a nice vacation, just go slaughter some baddies, get some treasure, no big deal!  Wait, what was that, you loaned your invisibility cloak to your neighbor so they can pull pranks at work?  You gave your ring of power to that creepy dude who talks to himself because he beat you at a riddle?  And Merlin asked for his Holy Grail back, and swiped your healing potion while you were at it?  Well, I hope there are not TOO many monsters in that dungeon… oh wait, there is a dragon and a demon and… Yeah, you are dead!  Sorry about that… Glad it wasn’t me!

So goes the game of Welcome to the Dungeon, a push-your-luck style where you have one of three options every round – add a monster to the dungeon, take away one of the hero’s items, or say you are out!  Last one in has o use what measly supplies they have to defeat the monsters in the dungeon.  If you have survive two times through, gaining a fortune, you win!  Or if you can get everyone else to fail twice, they all got eaten and you win!  How hard can it be?

Well, how hard is it to read your friends?  Are they filling the dungeon with weaklings so that they can go in and breeze on through while you are too scared to enter, or are they packing it to the gills with Death itself to murder you in the face?  Are they leaving the things that they know they can use in the dungeon, or are they making sure to eliminate anything useful?  How far will you press your luck?

The game takes only a few minutes to play and is full of both strategy and luck.  Is it a game to base a night around?  Well, no, but it is a good palate cleanser and you will find yourself laughing, groaning, and analyzing everything after each round.  I would give it a solid 7/10

The artwork is beautiful

Saloon Tycoon – Gen Con #1

Saloon Tycoon – Gen Con #1

I recently got to go to GenCon, which is an amazing convention mainly centered around board games in Indianapolis attended by around 60,000 people this year.  Games get released at this convention, and prototypes are shown off to get hype going for publishers and Kickstarters.  Honestly, words have a hard time describing the amount of people and activity and the importance of this event for the hobby.

So at GenCon I was able to purchase quite a few games, so as I play them I will start reviewing them here.  Our first game is Saloon Tycoon, where you want to be a tycoon…. of a saloon!    Descriptive, ain’t it?  So you start off with just a saloon and you can pay your gold to add to your saloon, both horizontally or vertically (as long as you have bought enough supply cubes for your section.)  To expand out you will have to spend extra money, but you will also get more points.

So what can you build?  Some are pretty basic like the laundry and the pantry, nice stuff for a saloon to have.  Anyone can build them.  But then you have some things that only one person can have, which can be amusing.  You can get the Printing Press, but only if you haven’t built a laundry, since that would mess up the paper.  If you get the printing press, you also get a reporter, who if you have her at the end of the game gets you five points, yay!  Other one’s make sense, like build a theater and you get an entertainer.  Other’s are brilliant, like build a brothel and you get… a Senator!  Yep, not a madam or one of the girls, but a senator.  Guess they made use of that early photography to get some incriminating evidence on him.  That or he’s just a loyal customer.  And of course my girls are the most respected and cared for ladies of the night around.

So you build up your saloon, everything is happy and exciting, but hold on!  Nothing can be so easy.  If you start off faster than others, be prepared for bandits and drunks and all kinds of ne’er do wells to come to your saloon and cause issues.  I honestly love this mechanic, even if I have a tendency to accumulate all these wonderful bandits.

And of course there are secret objectives to do, as well as open ones that you can claim, and you can bribe people away from your competitors, etc…  So much involved in this game and yet it’s still easy to pick up and play.  With a fairly solid theme, ease of play, and just plain fun to create stories about the people and places in your saloon, I would definitely recommend this game.


Context Matters

So I seem to have this mental block where I hardly ever say just enough, it’s always too much or too little.  There are times when I need to learn how to shut up, and times I need to say more instead of just cutting off.  For instance, I have been talking to people lately about my experience with a 6am Men’s Bible Study at my internship site and I say how I attended or led it on occasion, and then I would go home and go back to bed for two hours, then get back up and go back to the church.  This makes me sound a bit lazy, as the rest of the guys who went didn’t go home, they went to work and had the rest of their days.

In one way, I’m saying too much.  If I just talked about the study and how great it was that these guys came together to hear the word of God and to know one another better, that would be great.  But instead I talk about my experience, and that takes away from the goodness of the event.  On the other hand, I am not saying enough to give context, because that was a period of time before I had been diagnoses with my sleep apnea and I was constantly exhausted since I wasn’t breathing at night, making mornings especially hard on me.  However, now that I have been diagnosed and take measures to ensure my health, I would have no problem with participating or leadings such a group and staying up and getting other work done.

Context does change things quite a bit.  Yet when we read scripture, how often do we look at the context?  Do we know or pay attention what comes before or after a particular passage, or do we focus just on what we see?  That’ is even a deficiency in these devotionals, because I will only occasionally look at the broader context (usually when I read and go “What the?  There has to be more, I’m not getting this at all!) instead of just focusing on the few verses in the lectionary.  So what I’m challenging everyone to do is not just look at snippets, but always look for the context, ask questions and dig, and faith shall surely grow.


1st Reading – Proverbs 23:1-11 – When you are with a ruler or someone who is stingy and they have a big table of food in front of you, do not be desirous of the food and eat your fill.  They don’t really mean to eat and drink!  It will all be gone soon anyway.  Also don’t speak in front of fools and don’t remove landmarks and take from orphans.

How often is it that food is laid out as a temptation or a trap?  Or how often in the movies is it that the rich, powerful villain is sitting at his table eating a feast when the hero is brought to them?  The problem lies in the storing up of things for one’s self or to impress or intimidate others.  The problem lies in the temptation to get more and more for ourselves, to feast for ourselves and neglect everyone else.

Think about the times that the writer lived in, where most people were living a life that barely made ends meet, where the focus was on having enough just to eat.  So what does it say when people are suffering all around you, that you might have a feast on your table?  The scriptures constantly point to Godly people giving what they have away to their brothers and sisters who have none, so to strive to be rich ourselves, to strive to store up for ourselves and lord over others goes completely against those teachings.  Therefore, those who have these rich feasts are not to be trusted, because they are just as likely to kill you if you are in their way or if it might benefit them, as it is that they will help you if it helps them.  Be careful of those who look out for themselves first and foremost, and be careful not to fall into that trap yourself.

2nd Reading – Romans 11:33-36 – The wisdom and riches of God are far beyond our capacity to even begin to understand.  Everything comes through, from, and to God, so let God be praised.

I like to think that I’m a pretty smart guy, yet I also know that there are people far wiser than me, whether it be in science like Neil deGrasse Tyson,  or theology, like any of my seminary professors, or board gaming, like Tom Vasel.  Yet at the same time, each of their wisdom is nothing compared to the wisdom of God.  No matter how smart we may be, or how much we may plan, or anything else, God will also know more and better than any of us.

So what are we meant to do?  Well we are to use whatever meager gifts God has given us to serve God, to use what we have been given along god’s purpose for each of us.  In God’s wisdom, God has decided to use every single one of us in different ways, to further God’s kingdom of mercy and love.  What we need to do though is let go of the idea that we know what is the best thing to do, and instead listen for God’s instructions and desires for us.  God is the bearer of all things, who created us and formed us as God’s own children.  May we seek out that wisdom in the quietness, in the listening, and then act in the ways that God moves us.

3rd Reading – Psalm 49 – Listen carefully!  You cannot buy your way into everlasting life, the price is far too high.     Everyone dies, the wise and foolish, rich and poor.

Well isn’t that just so happy?  Of course, what the psalm doesn’t tell us, because the psalmist didn’t know, was that the price for everlasting life has been paid by God, the only one who could possibly do it.  We are made free from fear of the grave, even though we must go through the grave, because of what God has done for us.  So yes, we all die, and that is miserable, but we also shall all live in the life that is to come, praise be to God!  Just remember always that it is not by our doing that this is done, it is purely from God.


Lord, you give us life, and you are with us when these lives come to an end.  Help us to see the big picture in life of your will, that we may serve you as we are able until we are all reunited again in your kingdom that has no ending.  Amen.

Time is Ticking Away… What Will You Do With It?

It is a well known fact that I have abysmal directional skills.  Every time I go somewhere that isn’t routine for me, I give thanks to God for inspiring someone and giving them the smarts to design the GPS system.  How bad is it?  I once got lost going back to my old high school…. A month or so after I graduated…. It’s only 2 turns.

Comparable to that is my understanding of time.  Amy learned long ago never to ask me “when did that happen?”  No matter what, my answer will be completely off.  If it was 2 days ago, I will say it was at least a week ago.  If it was a month ago, I might say it was a year ago.  Facebook’s ability to show me my memories completely astounds me, because I will go “Really that was only a year ago?”  I did that today when it came up that this was the one year anniversary of us pondering buying the board game Pandemic, a game we have played around…. A billion times (I slightly exaggerate) and have bought one of the expansions for and played that a billion times too.  It was only a year ago, but also, alongside Ticket to Ride, came to better our relationship through having things to do together besides state at a TV screen and is one of the things people come to define me as, since friends will tend to ask what games to try or if I have played a particular game, and now on the blog I know even discuss my views on various games….

Each week I wonder to myself “Where has the week gone?  How is it Sunday again already?”  and each night I ask “where did the day go?  How am I putting Abby to bed already?”  Even though time seems to fly away, I still give thanks for the time that I do have.  Each moment is so precious, especially with as limited as it ultimately is.  It can be so easy to let moments slip away, staring at our phones or fretting about the future or carrying a torch for the past.  So take each moment, embrace it, take notice of all around you and enjoy it all.


1st Reading  – Ezekiel 32:1-10 –  Pharaoh, you consider yourself a mighty lion, but you are not.  And now for 7 verses I will tell you all the horrible things I will do to you, in graphic form, and to your people.  The other kings are going to be terrified when I crush you.

Well, isn’t that just a happy fun time for everyone…  Going to be ripped apart by wild animals, have your blood fill the land and water, cause darkness over your people, and more.  Oh happy days are here again.  And this isn’t even the end of the prophecy against Egypt, it is the entire chapter, all 32 verses.

And why is all this going to happen?  Because Egypt/the Pharaoh considers itself so powerful and mighty and greater than God, and the people of Israel have been going to Egypt for protection instead of God.  Pharaoh has set himself up as a god, and God is going to show where true power lies.  True power is, and always has been, God’s.  Nothing can possibly compare.  Our egos get in the way of that though.  In many ways, we deem ourselves gods of our own lives, the kings of our own castles, where it is our wants and desire that need to be met, and not God’s.  In that way we are guilty of some of the same sins as Pharaoh.  Luckily for us we have Christ who forgives us, but that does not mean that we shouldn’t be aware of our failings, repent for them, and turn ourselves around to truly follow Christ in every moment of our lives.

2nd Reading – Luke 9:37-43a – After the Transfiguration, Jesus is met by a man and his son, who is constantly possessed by demons.  The disciples have been unable to cure the boy, Jesus berates the generation then cures the boy.  All are astounded.

Right before this, at the Transfiguration, Peter has asked if they could build three dwellings on the mountain for Jesus, Elijah, and Moses, and they could just stay there.  Jesus refuses and they come back down the mountain, and Jesus promptly begins to question whether living on the mountain may have been a better idea.  Ok, maybe not better, but definitely easier.  But the reality is that God wants us to have these mountaintop experiences where God is made so clear to us, but at the same time we are always called out into this world, no matter how dirty and frustrating it may be. It is in the world that ministry is done, that people are healed, lives restored, and hope and peace are brought.  If Jesus had not come off the mountain, the boy would have continued to suffer, there would have been no death on the cross and we would still be bearing our sins on our own.  But Christ did come down and serve and suffer so that others may live.  Christ is always found serving, as we are meant to always be found serving, giving light and hope to a people who are lost in the darkness with seemingly nowhere to turn.  We come off the mountain, we refuse to keep to ourselves and let those who suffer do so alone.  We go into the world, meeting everything head on, in love and sacrifice and hope.

3rd Reading  – Psalm 64 – Lord, my enemies lie in secret and try to set traps for me and shoot me with arrows.  But God will bring them to ruin and I will be vindicated!

One of the bigger problems that the psalmist addresses is that these enemies keep trying to do everything in secret to destroy the psalmist.  Instead of coming to the psalmist and trying to work things out, they just try to destroy from the shadows.  Here’s a hint – If you are speaking poorly about someone in secret, trying to poisons others against them or plotting against them, you are the one in the wrong.  Go and speak to the person, work your problems out.  Nothing is gained by such subterfuge.  Instead let there be light and hope.


Lord, you given us days and nights, weeks, months, and years.  Help us to treasure every moment, help us to show love to all and to give and receive forgiveness.  Keep us humble and in service to you, that you may be glorified every day.  Amen.


Ghost Stories – A Tale of Suffering… In a Fun Way

Ghost Stories – A Tale of Suffering… In a Fun Way

Ghost Stories is a game gifted to us by the designer Antoine Bauza, to show us how weak we truly are.  It is a game that we spend the rest of the night building ourselves up to by paying easier cooperatives and such so that we don’t feel as pathetic when Wu-Feng utterly destroys all of our hopes and dreams, where God truly does laugh in our faces no matter what plans we may have for ourselves.  The above picture is one of the two times that we even made it to the main boss, Wu-Feng, which was met with much jubilation, to the point that we didn’t mind that we were slaughtered… I guess what I’m saying is that it’s a hard game for us.

So what is Ghost Stories really?  Well, imagine being a warrior monk in ancient China, able to overpower enemies with your strength, run on top of bamboo and fly around like in Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, and enlisted by some villagers to save their shanties from a powerful enemy, like Seven Samurai… except there are only four of you.

Each turn you are able to move one space in any direction and then try to exorcise a ghost from one of the areas surrounding the village by rolling colored dice, or use the gifts of a villager you happen to be visiting at the moment, such as the gift to bring one of your friends back to life, or tokens to make things easier to kill, or give you a handy dandy, two of a king Buddha Bomb!  Yes, you can use a Buddha to blow up a ghost, how awesome is that!  It may even be more fun than blowing up that evil bunny with the Holy Hand Grenade….

After you do your thing, another ghost appears!  And that ghost may do a multitude of things, like haunt one of your villagers, making them incapable of doing things, or they can make you unable to use your precious tokens (Hate you Black Widow!), or stop you from using your abilities, or take one of your dice away, or quickly sap away your will to live… literally!  They can even make more ghosts appear, quickly filling up your board with death and destruction.

Ultimately you will encounter one of Wu-Feng’s Incarnations, in which case you may need a new pair of underwear, and if you defeat him, you win, the village is saved and they will have a feast in your honor!

But most likely you won’t.  Before that happens you will be overrun with ghosts, who will rip you into shreds, and each moment will get your pulse quickening as the dice fall and ghost cards are pulled.  And it is fantastic!

There are few games where I sit there worried about what might happen or excited when I do something well.  Rollercoasters have been known to have less excitement for me, and on the bonus side of the game, no motion sickness!  So I definitely recommend it.

This game also reminds us that we really can’t do it alone.  There are plenty of cooperative games where you are just doing your thing and in the end, you do win.  But in this one you have to help one another out, you have to be in constant communication, or else you will surely die horribly.  Each person has their own talents and skills, their own gifts, and they need to be used in order to succeed.  Much like the Body of Christ, we can’t say “I have no need for you.”  The hand needs the foot, the eye needs the ear, and everything else.

So check it out, and hopefully your plans are not laid to waste and Wu-Feng may fall beneath your feet.  Good luck!

Where is God in All This Pain and Suffering?

I saw on the news that President Obama has had to do 16 speeches following mass shootings during his presidency.  He doesn’t come out and talk every time there is a shooting, otherwise he would never get to not be at that podium, but just at the ones that are absurdly depressing.  And he’s had to do it 16 times.  We have in our country a weird mindset where we are simultaneously outraged and completely numb to these acts of violence.  I was meeting with some of the area pastors and one had a list of all these mass shootings, and we realized that we had even forgotten a majority of them, because they have become such a piece of our national fabric.  We are sadly used to them.

So in this world that is filled with sin and pain and violence, where this kind of thing becomes normal, we ask ourselves “where is God?”  Where is God in all this pain and suffering and hate?  Why doesn’t God stop these things from happening?  The answer to why God doesn’t stop it can be quite unsatisfying, but it is that God gave us free will.  We have the ability to do amazing things or terrible things, because God has given us the ability to make decisions for ourselves and how we want to act.  Sadly, people will use this to cause pain and destruction and then we are left to pick up the pieces and try to move forward.

The good news though is that God is indeed in all of this as well.  God does not just leave us to suffer on our own.  God was in Pulse that morning, suffering alongside the victims, giving hope and love in the midst of tragedy.  God is with the victims and their families, and even with the family of the shooter, loving all in the midst of mourning and confusion.  God is in the midst of us in our greatest of sorrows, because God is not one who just sits off in the corner or who set the world in motion and walked away.  God is invested in us.  God took upon himself mortality so that God could die on the cross and forgive us our Sin and know our pain.  God knows suffering, and loves and supports us through it all.

God is also in us, in the voices that cry for justice, in the arms that hold one another, in the love that is shared, God is in it all.  We are never abandoned by God, even though it times we may feel distant.  As Christians we are called to make that love known, to battle hate with love and fear with hope.  Our battle is not against people, but against that which breaks relationships and divides people, that which tears people down and that which brings despair and hopelessness.  My prayer is that through us we may help people to see the loving God who unites and brings hope and purpose.


1st Reading – Isaiah 56:9-12 – All you wild animals, come and devour Israel, because their leaders are too busy drinking and sleeping to pay attention, or are completely not up to the task of protecting the people, unable to bark or bite.

What responsibility do leaders have to their people?  Many of us are leaders, whether it be in our homes, jobs, schools, or congregations.  God proclaims that Israel’s leaders are blind, mute, lazy, gluttonous, drunk, and without knowledge.  Not exactly the highest or praises.  Due to all of this, the people are now in danger and will be gobbled up by the wild animals, by Israel’s enemies.

Our responsibilities then are to see, to look around and see what is going on around us, what dangers lurk and what opportunities arise.  To see where it is that God is calling us to go, instead of closing our eyes so we can try to find the way on our own.  We are meant to speak up when we see injustice and we see our brothers and sister in danger and hurting.  We have been given voices and we need to use them.  We need to stay active, not rest on the successes of the past or mope because of failures, but engage in the life that God has given us.  We need to focus not on those things that bring us the most pleasure and have a life focuses on “Me, Me, Me,” but rather care for those who we are responsible for, care for all who are suffering.  And finally we are to continue to learn and to grow in our faith and in our responsibilities.  We can never assume that we have enough skill or knowledge, instead we need to keep searching for ways to improve and to discern God’s calling for our lives.

2nd Reading – Romans 2:17-29 – How can you call yourself a Jew and a follower of the law, lift yourself up as a teacher and corrector, while all the while committing every sin you say not to commit?  Gentiles blaspheme God because of your actions!  What matters is not what you proclaim, but how you act and sincerely following God.

What does it mean to be a Christian, a follower of Jesus Christ?  I have heard it said that it is about what we believe, making it a head condition.  If we have the right thoughts and we know that God is going to save us, then we are saved and fine.  But that feels like this Romans reading, where it has to do with belief and telling other people they are wrong, all while doing things incongruent with God’s purposes.

I have also had people say that it means that they “belong” to a particular congregation.  But just being in a location doesn’t make us something, just as standing in a garage won’t make me a car.  Having a membership doesn’t really mean much in the grand scheme of things if we don’t live out God’s purpose for us and act in God’s love.

I’ve referred to it as a heart condition, it matters what is in our hearts, in our feelings for others.  And to a point this is true, especially when it is the heart that affects how we treat one another.  It is also that the desire to serve God does indeed please God, even when we fail miserably.

But I believe that really it is a full body experience.  Everything that we have and everything that we are is wrapped up in our identity as a Christian.  Experiencing the love and grace of God changes how we think, feel, and act.  Every action and word is to be wrapped in the love of God.  The problems in Romans are the people are stuck in knowing what the right things are, or at least thinking that they do, and judging others when they don’t act as they think they should.  We need to escape that judgment an instead give our arms wide open to welcome the stranger, offer our shoulders as a place to rest heads when they are bowed down with tears, speak the worlds of love and grace and fully live them out as well.  Use our minds to learn as much as we can, while also finding ways to get out the message of God’s forgiveness and mercy in ways people can understand and latch onto.  The faith is all about seeing someone else as a brother or sister, a family member in need of love, not judgment and condemnation.  We are the Body of Christ in the world, so let’s use every part of our bodies to serve the One who made and redeems us.


Lord, we give you thanks for being with us through all things, for holding us in our fears and tears.  Help us to be open to one another, to share that same love and care for one another.  Be with all who are suffering this day, from so many acts of violence, disasters, and accidents.  Move us to be people of healing and hope for all, that your light may shine through us into the darkest places of this world.