The Road to Bethlehem – Journeys Through Time and Space

Overview: ‘The Road to Bethlehem’ is a “RPG-in-a-box” game where players journey to meet the Holy Family through a series of scenarios, which contain story path choices, and personal and team challenges.

How to Play: Each scenario begins with narrative read by the Game Master (GM), which presents the first decision point for players. Using voting cards (labeled A through E), players secretly vote on their preferred decision, reveal, and discuss if a majority is not reached. The GM reads the narrative for that choice, and proceeds through further decision points, and conducts personal and/or team challenges. When the end of the scenario is reached, the GM reads the Epilogue narrative, which features a question(s) asked by the Archangel Raphael. After the 8th Scenario, the GM reads from the Final Epilogue, which will vary based on players time, equipment, authority, and reputation progression levels (i.e., arriving too early/late and the players will miss meeting the Holy Family, higher levels of authority/reputation/equipment will mean richer event descriptions).

Gameplay: We had three generations playing the game, with nine players (we used seven player boards as my parents doubled with our youngest two who are 4 and 5), and myself as the GM. The initial narrative and encounter board helped everyone picture the situation. Every decision point often evoked discussion before and after. For instance my youngest daughter expressed distrust of the Phoenician merchant due to his aggressive advertising of his wares, but her grandmother proposed maybe he had something useful for the journey ahead. The personal and team challenges were sometimes entertaining and invoked a lot of laughter, and other times brought frustration. I prepped 2-3 scenarios in advance to ensure I had a modified alternatives for elementary age children, and middle-schoolers. For the scenario epilogues I decided to read each person their own Archangel Raphael card (my parents were visiting and I wanted them to see as much of the game content as possible). Each card has some serious answers, but there’s always a funny one or two which made the kids laugh hard. For some challenge/card rewards, it allowed a player to pick a token out of the ‘Bag of Surprises’; this created some mystery, and some of the tokens were private challenges, e.g., make someone laugh, help someone with a personal challenge, for that player to earn some extra reputation.

Some examples personal/team challenges:

  • Properly arrange parts of famous proverbs
  • Sing Christmas Carols from memory
  • Find hidden objects in a room
  • Define Biblical Phrases, e.g., Promised Land, Prodigal Son
  • Untie knots as a group behind back
  • Build a tower out of paper & toothpicks (we used marshmallows in lieu of paper)
  • Memorize a maze pattern
  • Walk on a path blindfolded, following directions from others
  • Name synonyms/antonyms for words

Our Family Background with Gaming: For family background, and experience with board and role playing games, my parents, my one sister, and I played Heroquest, the grandfather of “RPG-in-a-box”, in the early ‘90s. More recently, I have played in several Dungeons & Dragons 5th Edition campaigns, and hosted some ‘No Thank You Evil’ sessions with my four oldest children. The wife and I have been heavily involved in the board game renaissance, and have introduced our children to a wide range of new generation board games, e.g., Machi Koro, Carcassonne, Castle Panic, Smallworld, Survive, to name a few, and in particular the modern “RPG-in-a-box” Mice and Mystics.

Summary: I would definitely recommend this game. The kids were excited to play the next scenario, and would ask when we were going to play it again. I would be hard pressed to find a better game to play during Advent, this game fits the role well and I believe it will become an annual family tradition. The kids often found the physical challenges entertaining, and the funny answers in the Archangel Raphael cards brought out hearty laughter. It was a great way to spend hours together as a family, and everyone was able to play. Traditionally, Christian-themed games are either mass market games with tacked on Christian veneers, e.g., Operation Noah’s Ark, Bibleopoly, or made by well-intention Christians who made unfun games, e.g., Solomon’s Temple, The Bibleman Adventure, Walk to Jesus. Because of this Christian-themed games tend to be a niche market, despite Christians representing one-third of the world’s population. Which leads into my next point. The game is currently selling for $89 on Amazon, which is high for a board game, but fairly on par for a “RPG-in-a-box”. I conclude it’s due to the market size and the quality of the components. For comparison, Mice and Mystics retails for $70, Descent: Journeys into the Dark for $79, and Gloomhaven (currently #1 on BoardGameGeek) for a stunning $289. For another comparison with pen & paper style role-playing games, seriously getting into D&D 5th edition will cost you at least $100: one copy each of the Player’s Handbook, Dungeon Master’s Guide, and some dice. Now, it’s bit of comparing apples to oranges (D&D is immensely flexible and Gloomhaven has mind-boggling 95 scenarios), but where I’m driving is the price is not unreasonable and if we want to see more games like this we need to vote with our wallets. Get the game, play with family and friends.

Verdict: FOUR out of FIVE WISEMEN

Likes:

  • Requires little setup time, and minimal prep time for the Game Master
  • “Choose-your-own-adventure” feel
  • Co-operative, family-friendly play with story decision points
  • Top-notch Quality Components
  • Beautiful, professional Artwork
  • Variety of challenges that catered to everyone
  • Educational about Advent, the Nativity
  • Replayable, each Scenario has several major paths
  • Candidate for Annual Family Advent Tradition

Dislikes:

  • Scenario pacing is sometime uneven (Too narrative heavy at times, team decision points bunched up, back-to-back challenges)
  • Some mildly mature references (e.g., Drinking at an Inn, Bandits capturing people for slavery)
  • Some challenges are hard to understand, based on reading alone, short videos would help
  • Challenges/Trivia don’t scale based on age
  • Missed opportunities for proverbs/quotes/references from the Bible, Catholic Saints, Popes, Church Fathers, etc. (I would guess this is a design choice, in order to appeal to all Christians, regardless of Denomination)
  • No built-in mechanism for create your own scenario/campaign

Players: 3-8
Playing Time: 30 minutes to 1 hour for each scenario; 8 scenarios in total
Age: 8 and up (younger children can play with assistance from adults)

Website:http://www.road2bethlehem.com/

Where to buy:https://www.amazon.com/Road-Bethlehem-Journeys-through-space/dp/B076DD6HJ8

Designer: Jacek Malkowski
Artist: Martyna Bylinka, Monika Popkiewicz, Michal Dziubicki, Natalia Kielmel, Przemyslaw Pulit, Kacper Molewski
Distributor: Gates of Tau
Translation: Annabelle Chapman, Anthony Glotz, David Liebers, Krzysztof Rafi Gorski
Year Published: 2017
Categories: Adventure, Biblical Campaign Setting
Mechanisms: Co-operative Play, Storytelling

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TableTop Day

Holidays, in the modern sense, are days we stop to remember and/or celebrate an event, a people, or a place. There’s the ones we are all familiar with, e.g., St. Patrick’s Day, Memorial Day, Halloween, Christmas, etc, but there is also countless lesser known holidays celebrated all over. Manitou Springs in Colorado celebrates “Fruitcake Toss Day” on January 3rd, Sault Ste. Marie in Michigan celebrates “Snowman Burning Day” on March 20th, Austin, Texas celebrates “No Pants Day” on May 1st, and the United Federation of Planets celebrates “Federation Day” on October 9th. A few years ago Boyan Radakovich, a game designer and web show producer, created “International Tabletop Day” as a way to celebrate the tabletop gaming community and industry. Usually we go to a local gaming shop, but since we were new to the area, and options were very limited, we decided to stay home and spend all day Saturday playing.

The kids created individual lists of what games they wanted to play, and we stacked them in the screen room. Of the 11 selected, we managed to play 7 in a day. In all of the games the wife, myself, Pippi, Jem, and Bubbles played, and occasionally Duke joined in when not playing outside with his brothers Pooh and Baby Kermit.

To start things off we played a little card game called Tempurra, where anthropomorphic cats have an eating contest in a Taiwanese Snackbar. The short explanation of gameplay is players stacking matching dishes (cards) face-up and when a player can’t place a card they eat the dishes (draw that many from the deck). If they get indigestion (draw a “No More!” card) they get a negative point. The game ends when someone gets three negative points. I got fairly unlucky as I drew the most indigestion cards, followed by the wife. None of the girls drew indigestion cards, so Pippi won having the most cards in hand (15).
Overall: A short card game with a funny theme. Like most card games, luck of the draw largely determines play although with strategic early “eating” and careful hand management players can last longer in this game of attrition.

After having warmed up with a card game we moved onto Dixit, a story telling party game revolving around cards but with some “board” aspects. Each player draws a hand of six cards, and each takes a turn playing the “Storyteller”. The storyteller selects a card from their hand, places it facedown, and says a word, phrase, or sentence represented by the picture. The other players select a card from their hand they think represents what has been said. The storyteller then shuffles the cards and repeats what they said earlier each time they reveal one of the played cards. All players then vote, using cardboard chits, which card they think best represents what was said. The pictures on the cards have a Salvador Dali-esque feel to them.  The challenge comes from the storyteller needing at least one person to select their card, but if nobody or everybody selects their card they get no points. Other players get points if somebody gives their card the number one chit. A fun aspect I found to the game is often other players played cards that better represented the spoken word. Points are tallied using meeple-esque wooden bunnies racing around a track trying to get to 30. Bubbles and Pippi tied in our game.
Overall: A great party game that keeps children involved using their imagination. Best played periodically due to the limited number of cards (although there are seven expansions that provide an additional 84 cards each!)

We moved into formal board game territory with Pirate’s Cove, a European take on pirates racing to acquire the most fame in a year.  There’s a large square board with various islands, and each player has a map representing their ships various strengths, e.g., sailing speed, cannons, crew size, and hull capacity. Each island has a stack of treasure cards, and during a turn players use a ships wheel to select in private which island they’re sailing for. If more than one ship arrives at the same island, a sea battle ensures, which involves dice rolling based on the pirate’s crew and cannon ratio. Some, like Gem, were able to sail most of the game uncontested and were able to continually upgrade their ship. The wife, Pippi, and I were continually unlucky, often battling it out, and more often than not, being forced to retreat to Pirate’s Cove to recoup. You could retreat early before your ship was crippled but it always risked a disastrous mutiny. Midway through the game Bubbles managed to gain a significant lead, after making critically successful power plays. Final scoring:

  1. Bubbles – 46 fame
  2. Jem – 39
  3. Mom – 34
  4. Dad – 32
  5. Pippi – 30

Overall: A chaotic game of risk and reward. Ironically, it’s often better to avoid battle and focus on middle of the road rewards, as even winners have to repair battle damage, which cuts into their supposedly better rewards.

We moved onto a lighter game, Enchanted Forest, a children’s roll & move game with memory aspects. Each player plays a wizard (who has no magical powers) searching the forest for lost items from famous fairy tales. The board, artwork, and playing pieces are good quality. A stack of cards is placed on the castle and a card is revealed. Players search the forest, looking under plastic trees for the item. When they find the right tree, their supposed to get back the castle, without raising suspicion, and reveal the items location. As the game progresses the guessing speeds up as players recall which items were under which trees. Jem won the initially revealed card, and we called it quits from there.
Overall: Urgh, shoot me. We thought this game would be more fun, but the rolling and moving was tedious, as you often missed landing on the trees exact location. Then there was the whole aspect of getting back to the castle. Rinse and repeat for each card. Blah. Good for kids with a lot of time on their hands, and who don’t know better games.

After taking a break we came back to Oh Gnome You Don’t!, a roll & move game involving gnomes brawling each other as they attempt to collect the most gems. For an American game this game has a strong, albeit silly, theme. The artwork is well done and gameplay is relatively balanced so most gnomes stay within a few spaces of each other. Most gems are gained from selling plants and other items to local merchants along the way, although gems can also be gained from fighting and trickery. Bubbles actually reached the finish line first long before anybody else, however this hurt her as she essentially skipped the last fourth of the board. This allowed others to collect more items, sell them, and generally collect additional gems. Some of the girls got upset when cards were played against them, taking the slights very personally. Final gem count:

  1. Mom – 51
  2. Duke – 47
  3. Jem – 47
  4. Bubbles – 45
  5. Pippi – 44
  6. Dad – 43

Overall: This game can be fun at times, but pacing is uneven. It starts at a slow pace, the mid-game is quite rowdy and fun, but then the end game gets monotonous. The back and forth between players can be fun for some, and upsetting for others. Certainly a “once-in-a-while” game.

We didn’t plan it this way, but we played two cutthroat games back to back. Survive: Escape from Atlantis, is a modular board game where players attempt to fleeing the sinking island and make it safely to the neighboring islands. The board is mostly water spaces, and the island is made up from six sided cardboard pieces of three different thicknesses, representing sandy beach, island jungle, and mountains. We took turns placing our plastic guys on tiles, followed by each of us placing two empty boats. Gameplay has each player taking three actions, which involves moving their pieces, then removing one tile from the game, and finally rolling the dice to see which sea creature (dolphin, shark, whale, and sea serpents) moves and how far. The game ends when one of the mountain tiles (after all the sand and jungle tiles are removed first) containing the volcano is revealed. Players count points on the bottom of guys that made it to the islands. Things get cutthroat quickly as boats are moved away from the island early, tiles player’s pieces sit on are removed, and sea creatures are used to attack other player’s pieces. Jem and Pippi managed to get their high value guys to the islands, relatively unmolested. On Bubbles and I’s side of the island it was pure chaos as whales destroyed boats and sharks ate swimmers. Bubbles encouraged other players to attack my guys for some minor slight, lost in the end when she didn’t get any guys to the islands, despite having three boats full.

  1. Jem – 18 points
  2. Pippi – 16
  3. Mom – 14
  4. Dad – 8
  5. Bubbles – 0

Overall: This game is actually a reprint of the one I played three decades ago, which produces strong nostalgic feelings for me. The game has great tension and stark realization dawns that not everyone can be saved. The modular island and the variety of sea creatures allows different scenarios offering great replayability. Again, like the “Oh Gnome You Don’t!” game, this one isn’t recommend if children are sensitive to negative actions being played against them.

As it grew late in the day we finished with a card game. Exploding Kittens is a press your luck card game with outrageous artwork from Matthew Inman, author of “The Oatmeal” comic website. In this game you don’t want to draw cards. Matches are played, or cards are played to reverse turn order or force another player to play two turns. Each draw from the deck increases the chance of drawing a bomb. If a player has a defuse card they can place a bomb card back into the deck where ever they want. However, other players knowing your holding a previous defuse card will play cards to draw a random card from your hand, hoping to gain the defuse card. Despite having played it before the girls goofed on one of the rules, saying defuse cards go back into the desk, when they shouldn’t. Through strategic card playing the wife and I outlasted the girls but went into a never-ending loop since the defuse cards were being recycle along with the bombs. Ultimately we decide the wife won since she held more cards.
Overall: In my opinion this game is overhyped. Sure it’s got wacky artwork and a silly premise, but it lacks substance and relies too heavily on luck. Kids will enjoy it for the wackiness but adults will grow tired of it quickly.

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Fort Toulouse, AL

“Guest” Blog post by George
 
History has always been considered important to my family; it gives context to who we are, and insight to our future. If I had a time machine I would travel back to see each family generation as they were. Since that (currently) isn’t possible, living history is the next best thing. Fort Toulouse recently had their “French and Indian War” re-enactment day. This time period is the middle of the 18th century, where the first global conflict is raging, the Seven Years’ War, as France’s and Britain’s long-term rivalry erupts into a fight for supremacy. Earlier in the century, from a family perspective, our ancestors arrived in New France and were stationed at a Fort near Montreal. Fort Toulouse was built like many forts at the time, at a strategic position overlooking a bend in the regions significant waterway. Despite being built in an area claimed by three major powers, no battle was ever fought at the fort. My guess is because European settlement was low in the area. The area didn’t see any real importance until General Jackson arrived in the area during the Creek War, and ordered Fort Jackson built on the site.
The Fort is certainly worth visiting for anyone in the Montgomery, Alabama area. The area remains undeveloped, aiding the step back into the past. A replica fort sits on the site, and was alive with activity as French soldiers and civilians went about their daily life. We arrived in time to see the local garrison form up, march, and raise the Kingdom of France flag used during the time of King Louis XV. The children spoke with locals as they spun wool, churned butter, baked bread, and went about their day. They met a Coureur des bois, a French-Canadian woodsmen who lived between the worlds of the French and the local natives. He was replacing the flint on his .69 caliber Charleville musket, a heavy weapon of ten pounds, in preparation for the upcoming skirmish with British forces. Outside the Fort we ventured into the nearby Indian outpost, and met the Muskogee (Creek) Indians. The children greeted using the Muskogee words the Coureur des bois had taught them. There they found children their age using rocks to crack open acorns, prime ingredient for the unique experience that is acorn bread. We visited the local merchants circled outside the fort, and spent some time with the Blacksmith as he quickly and expertly forged nails in rapid fashion. Next we journeyed westward to a field where a British unit was encamped. Guards patrolled the perimeter, and most of the unit was “enjoying” a lunch of dried meat and fruit, and slightly moldy bread. We spoke with a Royal Artilleryman about the unit’s one pound breech-loading swivel gun. He admitted it was cast with river boat defense in mind, and thus the limited bore, but felt it provided physiological advantage fighting land forces. We met a British Lieutenant that was dismayed at our small French flags, and expressed contempt for our ancestry. He extorted the virtues of the English way and was confident of victory in the upcoming battle.
We walked onward to the site of Fort Jackson, a sizeable frontier fort common to the Napoleonic era. Not much remains, raised dirt shows one bastion, and a small stone building. The rest of the fort site is defined by gentle earthen ditches and ridges. Further towards the river we saw a small, forested hill. Not much to look at now, but it was a ceremonial mound built by the Mississippian Indians over a thousand years ago. We made our way back to the field by the British encampment, where we watched the French and British forces engage in linear fashion. Unlike the skirmish earlier in the day, the Muskogee and Coureur des bois stayed in the relative safety of the trees since they didn’t have the advantage of surprise. The two lines of the regulars and militia approached and raked each other with musket volleys. Men dropped on both sides, but the British line eventually pushed the French off the field.
We left mid-afternoon, as the heat index was in the high eighties; Alabama has a humid subtropical climate. Despite the heat, I heartily recommend visiting the Fort Toulouse-Fort Jackson State Historic Site, particularly during re-enactments which bring the Fort to life and offer a glimpse into the past.

Throw Back Thursday: October 2013 

Adventure in DC : So yesterday morning our neighbors brought over some tickets to The Washington International Horse Show. After a night of crying baby, Baby Kermit, we decided to sleep a few more hours before getting up and seeing what it was all about. So get the info and we decide it’s worth a trip to downtown DC. We rush to get all the kids ready and head to BK for lunch. We quick eat our lunch and head to the Anacostia Metro station. (so in the back of my head I am thinking this is going to be near my fears of zombie clowns. I am going cry, hide my children, and never leave base again.)

There was actually a very nice man working the booth at the Metro station who offered up lots of help and a friendly smile to boot. At the platform we come across a very interesting character which the kids can’t help but talk to since he insisted on sitting near us after making the comment “oh look there’s white people.” (This is seriously the comment that was made) The train ride was alot of jerking back and forth from the constant stopping and going. We got to our stop only to find out we should have gotten off at the stop before. I am nauseous at that point and need a bathroom. As we walked along 7th street there weren’t many places that looked like they would offer a public restroom. I spotted a McDonald’s and thought we would be safe. To my surprise the door to the restroom required a token. Thankfully I found some kind ladies at a near by bar that took pity on me and poor Bubbles.

We make our way to the box office to find out we have completely missed the kids day stuff but hey why not see what this whole horse show thing is about. It’s hard to turn down something free and an opportunity to experience something new. The kids were instantly drawn in. Even the 2 boys, Duke and Pooh, enjoyed themselves. Baby Kermit was just happy to eat and been out of the stroller for a bit. Not sure how long we stayed but long enough for the kids to get their fill of Show Jumping Horses. So we headed back to the near by Metro station. And again things go pretty smoothly getting on and off of the train. The kids loved the ride and behaved the entire day. We even made it back in time for Mass and George’s KOC meeting. The kids were happy to enjoy there dinner of French toast and bacon before being sent to bed. It was a much needed day out for all of us and very enjoyable, WE CAN SURVIVE THE METRO 🙂

 

Gloom 

In most games you’re trying to come out on top, i.e., building an empire, defeating an evil ogre, escaping a sinking island, surviving a long, zombie-infested winter, but in Gloom you want your family miserable. Not just miserable, but the most wretched, cursed family that ever lived and DIED. Gloom is a card game for 2 to 5 players, and the intended audience is teenagers and adults due to the mature-ish content, and the unusual language used. Players win by having the family with the lowest self-worth points after one of the families have all their members die. The cards are unique given they’re transparent, enabling cards to played on top of family member cards, adding or removing additional points, and occasionally obscuring previous points.

Players have the option to use cards to kill off family members with a negative self-worth, lower a family member’s self-worth, or raise another player’s family member’s self-worth. Examples of mishaps are the following: was distressed by dysentery, was taunted by tigers, was pestered by poltergeist, and was terrified by topiary. Examples of positive events are the following: found fame at a feast, was the toast of the town, was delighted by ducklings, and was wondrously well wed. When a player feels a family member has sufficiently low self-worth, and before a player can place positive event cards, the family member can have an untimely death, e.g., was baked into a pie, was devoured by weasels, and fell from on high.

A theme enhanced way to play the game is to generate an ongoing story as cards are played. For instance, Darius Dark was out for his usual evening walk on the moor when out of the mist came fearsome beasts. Darius [was pursued by poodles], and to escape their bites he jumped and waded into the marsh. Unable to return to land because of poodles he waded further out into the water until it became deep enough to swim. With his strength sapped he swam towards what he thought was a rock. Too late he noticed his error and [was mauled by a manatee]. Desperately he swam away and before he lost consciousness he managed to pull himself up onto a floating log. Awoken by singing and a gentle brush on his cheek, he saw his future bride for the first time, and that’s how he [found love on the lake]. Months later Darius was wedded, and as the ceremony came to an end, a sudden earthquake caused the pipe organ to shift off its platform, and fall onto the bride, and that’s how Darius [was windowed at the wedding]. Overcome by grief, Darius turned to the bottle and met his end a time later after he [drank too much rye].

As you can see, it’s a macabre game, like something out of Addams Family, Lemony Snicket, Tim Burton, etc. with its stories and the Victorian-esque artwork. As each player only has two actions each turn, it’s a challenge to spread misfortune on each of your family members and sending them to untimely deaths before positive events can happen to them, played by other players. Not a game I would want to play often, but certainly one to pull out on a dark and stormy night.

 -George