All posts by durough

Blessed to be a witness.

Game Review: Deal or Duel

Deal or DuelThe tremendous success of a Broadway play has prompted a surge in products related to Alexander Hamilton. Deal or Duel: An Alexander Hamilton Card Game is one of those, but it’s also a fun and worthwhile game in its own right. One need not know anything about Hamilton in order to play the game, but it makes it that much more interesting if one has some inkling about some of the characters (face cards). Most cards have some sort of trivia (perhaps something about the person on the card) or a little narrative (like on Monopoly cards) that have absolutely nothing to do with game mechanics but do make the product much more interesting, entertaining, and sometimes (for me) educational. It’s a game of strategy, sabotage, greed, and dueling, and you’ll love it.

My playtesting group consisted of six players (the game requires two to six), male and female, ages twenty to thirty-nine, all of whom enjoy a variety of game types. From the moment I opened the box for the first time to the end of the game was about two hours, which isn’t bad for learning to set up and play a new game at max capacity, and we were entertained throughout. No one read any of the cards ahead of time to get an idea of what was coming, and we were quite surprised when a couple Hamilton cards (you’ll know what they are when you read the rules) demolished everyone early on. We don’t think that’s normal and likely due to poor shuffling of a brand new and organized deck of cards, but it didn’t kill them game either—it just made us play smarter.

We noticed a few things that could be improved. The game comes with a paper mat for play organization, which is helpful but too small for proper placement of cards when dueling. (It’s not a big deal. We just had cards overlapping to make sure they were in the correct spots to start.) The rules state that used Hamilton cards go on the bottom of the pile, but we found a discard pile to be much easier to us, and used the open spot above the Hamilton card slot on the mat for this. The rules make no mention of a discard pile for face cards, but some Hamilton cards require them to be discarded, as opposed to the “Debtor’s Prison” that is sufficiently explained and has a large spot on the mat. We created a discard pile (from which face cards never recover) in the last free spot to keep track of them. Noting and distinguishing discarding face cards from prison should be addressed in the rules, but we made it work as we assume it was supposed to be handled (unless “discard” meant go to prison, which is articulated in a different way on different cards). There is also the possibility that one has no playable cards on one’s turn, which the rules again do not address. Do we discard one and draw another? Do we lose a turn? This is quite ambiguous given play order in the rulebook, so that certainly needs clarification. The variety of cards and types leaves this as an unlikely possibility, but we ran into it on the last turn just as I won *flex*, meaning upon the player’s next turn there may have been a problem with the inability to play if no cards could be played beforehand, which would likely have been the case.) In the grand scheme, these are minor issues that can be thought through and worked around, but should be addressed.


Overall, we had a great time and would (will) play it again.


*I received this book from Blogging for Books for this review.


Book Review: NIV Kids’ Visual Study Bible, by Zondervan

NIV Kids' Visual Study BibleZondervan’s NIV Kids’ Visual Study Bible contains hundreds of labeled images, scores of infographics, and countless easy-to-understand study notes in page margins. Provided images, both photographic and illustrated, are from an array of sources, each noted in fine print below the image. The infographics are beautifully simple and informative (parents will likely want to reference these for their own use)! The study notes are likely to be helpful for young readers, and when addressing controversial issues (e.g., the meaning of “day” in Genesis 1) the contributors include several brief interpretations, which is good for young readers and will lead to good questions and discussions with more mature Christians.

This hardcover copy is a brick, and I doubt any kid will be carrying it around. It may be more helpful as a stay-at-home Bible. I imagine the imitation leather editions may be a bit more portable, but not by much. While the layout is quite reasonable and easy on the eyes, there’s still a lot of wasted space in the set margins wherein study notes are place, which contributes to an increase in physical size.


All in all (NIV translation aside), I think kids will find this niche Bible interesting and helpful, but won’t want to carry it around.


*Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this book free from the publisher through the BookLook Bloggers book review bloggers program. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

Book Review: God-Soaked Life: Discovering a Kingdom Spirituality, by Chris Webb

God-Soaked LifeChris Webb’s God-Soaked Life: Discovering a Kingdom Spirituality is a beautiful and encouraging reminder to live with eyes to see and ears to hear the reality of the kingdom of God right now. Disciples of Jesus are not called to wait until they “fly away” somewhere; they are called to live in the kingdom now until we are fully united with God in the new heavens and new earth. What does that mean? Living and acting now in such a way that embodies the future kingdom that is “already among [us]” (Luke 17:21) and “not from this world” (John 18:36)—a kingdom and worldview that originated in God, not a human mind or institution. This way of love is not merely a suggestion; it’s a command. But if all we’re being are rule followers, then we’ve missed the entire point of loving God and neighbor—the kingdom.

Webb presents perspective on and life in the kingdom of God in practical and accessible ways. The book is divided into seven sections (The Invitation, Heart Renewal, Fearless Honesty, Close to the Father’s Heart, God in Everyday Life, Creating Community, and The Politics of Love), each containing three substantial chapters followed by a concluding fourth, which includes seven helpful and introspective questions based on particular readings of scripture. These questions may be pondered and answered all at once or, as suggested, taken a day at a time for a week’s worth of introspection and devotional time.

I will be recommending this book to my students, as well as many others (including you!). If it were scheduled to be published a month earlier, I would have had it on a reading list. Alas, it will be released too late, but never too late to recommend!

Grace and Peace to you all, and may you have eyes to see and ears to hear the kingdom of God in which we already live!


*I received a temporary, unpublished digital copy (hence no page numbers for included quotations) for review from InterVarsity Press via NetGalley.

Book Review: Colored Pencil Painting Portraits: Master a Revolutionary Method for Rendering Depth and Imitating Life, by Alyona Nickelsen

Colored Pencil Painting PortraitsI’ve always thought colored pencils were underrated, but I found them quite frustrating in my past attempts using them for realism. If I’d have had Alyona Nickelsen’s Colored Pencil Painting Portraits: Master a Revolutionary Method for Rendering Depth and Imitating Life twenty years ago, I probably wouldn’t have given up on them so easily. Every obstacle I encountered has been demonstrably removed through this book. Approaching them like oil paints, Nickelsen demonstrates ways colored pencils can be even more versatile and easier to use than any of us ever imagined. This incredibly informative, technical, scientific, and beautiful work will prove to be indispensable for any artist using (or wanting to use) colored pencils as a serious artistic medium. God bless Alyona and all the artists who follow her in elevating colored pencils in the world of art.


*I received this book from Blogging for Books for this review.

Book Review: A Bigger Table: Building Messy, Authentic, and Hopeful Spiritual Community, by John Pavlovitz

A Bigger TableIn the introduction to A Bigger Table: Building Messy, Authentic, and Hopeful Spiritual Community, John Pavlovitz writes, “This book is about humanity, about the one flawed family that we belong to and the singular, odd, staggeringly beautiful story we all share. It’s about trying to excavate those priceless truths from beneath the layers of far less important things that we’ve pile on top of them since we’ve been here. It’s about jettisoning everything in and around us that would shrink our tables.” (xiii) What it’s really about is tolerance and inclusion of LGBTQ in Christ’s church with no reservation. While I concur with Pavlovitz that we need to love people and be willing to sit at the same table, his use of Scripture and Jesus’ example leads the reader to believe that exclusivity is the only sin, that we are only unwilling to allow people into the Christ’s church because of our prejudices and biased upbringings, and that Jesus was a happy hippy who had no agenda and didn’t try to change people (except to make them tolerant of all other people). Much of this stems from some personal and unpleasant experiences with the church, with which many of us can certainly relate and understand. He rightly pushes back against business- and attraction-model churches, but argues for something that may appear virtually and functionally the same to those on the outside (108–110). Much of what Pavlovitz believes and writes is based on emotion what has felt good to him (even if they be difficult to deal with) rather than from a good wrestling with the whole of the Bible.

While likely intended to be a book about mercy and grace, it is really about loving people as they are and leaving them that way “because we are full image bearers of God and beloved as we are, without alteration.” (164) After reading Pavlovitz’s own words about his upbringing and current faith, I am not convinced he believes he has ever sinned (164–165) or that there is such a thing as sin (he encourages the reader to see suffering instead of sin [124], but this ought to be both-and, not either-or). Heaven on earth for him is simply diversity for the sake of diversity with open conversations where there is absolutely no pushback or accountability—where churches people can curse and say anything from pulpits like they do at his because that’s “real.” (81–82) While I’m certain there are many who will find this and the embedded universalism appealing, it’s not the image of ultimate redemption I find in Scripture.


*I received a temporary digital copy for review from Westminster John Knox Press via NetGalley.