Thursday, March 23, 2017

The Top 100 Christian Albums of the 1990s: 100-91

Who the heck am I to  make a determination of the best albums of a particular decade?

I'm a fan, that's who. And I'm not alone.

Many moons ago, I became a member of a group on Facebook that's dedicated to reminiscing about the Contemporary Christian Music industry, specifically in the 1990s. That decade saw a HUGE swipe of emerging artists, differing styles, and a lot of mainstream exposure for Christian artists. Labels like Metro One, Grey Dot, and Tooth and Nail and were launched and brought alternative music by Christians to a wider audience, distributing their stuff into mainstream stores. You no longer had to go to a local Christian bookstore to find the type of music you wanted to hear from a Christian perspective, and non-CCM radio genres were the perfect foray for these new labels and the bands that appeared on them.

In 2016, people began posting their lists of the top 100 albums by Christian artists in the 1990s. It took me a while, but I finally threw my picks out in November 2016. Over the next few entries, I'll expound on my choices. But first, I'll share with you my criteria for selection.

1. It had to be a Christian artist, or an artist with strong ties to the Christian music industry. There was one or two exceptions to this rule.

2. I tried to limit myself to two albums per artist.

3. I had to either own the album on the list, or at least be very familiar with it. This is why certain metal bands who put out truly stellar work in the 1990s aren't on this list.

100. PASSAFIST - Passafist
A bombastic album in play time, but not in track number, Passafist was a strong punch right in the teeth. Lynn Nichols and Dave Perkins, who had worked with Steve Taylor in Chagall Guevara, formed Passafist under the names Waco and Reno Caruso, along with help from John Elliott and Michael Saleem. Their neo-60s rock inspired industrial hybrid was a welcome breath of toxic air to an industry that often failed to tackle hard, but realistic subjects. The propagation of lust-marketing, pop psychology, and resorting to violence as a means of self-protection. Ahead of its time, Passafist was a wild ride that still remains a collector's item today.

99. RICK ELIAS & THE CONFESSIONS - Rick Elias & The Confessions
John Cougar Mellencamp has a lot of explaining to do. As many came to know, Rick Elias became one of those artists who crafted great songs, and became a mainstay in songwriters' circles. I personally lump him in with Rich Mullins as one of those guys who wrote better than they sang, but there was a fire beneath the performance on this debut. Not the most groundbreaking, but singer-songwriter heartland rock wasn't a huge commodity in 1990. If you can find a copy, it's definitely worth picking up, although it might not have aged as well as you'd hope.

98. INVINCIBLE - Jyradelix
Jyro Xhan is one of those elusive artists from the '90s. From techno/electronica to industrial to alternative Xhan and his collaborator Jerome Fontamillas (now of Switchfoot) were prolific enough to put out plenty of material in a short period of time. The Myx Records imprint, championed by DJ Scott Blackwell, featured Xhan and Fontamillas as Jyradelix, playing club-heavy rave/electronic music that sounds VERY dated now. But at the time, it was powerful, it was fast, it was fun, and it was exciting. Even today, when a beat stops, I almost always want to hear a distorted voice yelling out, "TAAAKE MYYYYY LIIIIIIIIFFFE!!" Chills.

97. NOW - Kosmos Express
One thing I absolutely hate is when Christian artists try to cash in on a trend catching on in the mainstream. At first glance, Kosmos Express sounds like an Oasis rip-off band, and the similarities are undeniable. But there's a sincerity in KE's music, even though this album obviously isn't going to win any awards. But the band blows through the songs with fun, enthusiasm, and a passion for making what they believe to be honest rock. It just happens to sound like another band out there. Unfortunately, a second album fell completely flat, and it didn't help that Sublime Records, the imprint they were signed to, pretty much faded into obscurity merely 2 years into its existence. Still, listening to this today revives that sense of hope and optimism so present in great Brit-pop music.

96. RIVULETS & VIOLETS - Rivulets & Violets
Most people know Masaki as the producer and engineer of most of Five Iron Frenzy's records, but he could play. Oh, could he play. The self-titled R&V album was a beautiful pawn shop find for me, and the amazing thing about the album was that there were absolutely no keyboards used -- EVERYTHING was played on guitar, which blew my mind. It very much sounded like a keyboard-driven record. Many a night I would put this record on to calm my nerves, help me sleep, or help me meditate on God's word. A wonderful instrumental album that should be in any collection of 90s Christian music.

95. HONEY LAKE - Aleixa
Let's clear this up now: it's pronounced "Ah-leek-ah", not "Ah-lex-eeah". Look at the way it's spelled. After hearing their cover of Stryper's "Makes Me Wanna Sing" on the Sweet Family Music Stryper tribute, I knew I'd have to find an entire album of this stuff. Think what would happen if the female vocalists from The B-52's formed an industrial band, but didn't sound awful, and that's what you'd wind up with here. Aggressive guitars and programming is melded with excellent vocals to create a pastiche unlike anything we'd heard before. Dark, brooding, moody, and gleefully decadent, Honey Lake left us hanging on for more.

94. ANYBODY OUT THERE? - Burlap to Cashmere
People may wonder why this recording isn't higher on my list, and that should give you some idea of the other albums I thought were BETTER than this full-length debut from New York act Burlap to Cashmere. Rumor has it that during their New Artist Showcase performance at GMA week in Nashville, they received a standing ovation after their first song. I don't know if that's true, but I was told they could be referred to as "Jars of Clay with balls", and their live shows did not disappoint. Which was kind of the problem -- this album was fine to listen to until I saw them live. But after that, their studio recordings failed to capture the energy of their live performance. Yes, the material is strong, and still sounds good to this day. But the live spark is definitely missing.

93. ...LET THE TRUTH RUN WILD! - Jacob's Trouble
Love for music from the 1960s can only go so far, and Jacob's Trouble had already milked it as much as they could have by the time this third album, produced by Mark Heard, came around. While some of the songs fit neatly into the psychedelic pop of '60s influence rock, many of the songs on the album feel disjointed, almost throwaways, as though they should have belonged on another artist's record. One of them is even called "Obligatory New Father Song". Why bother? Just put that one down on a tape and use it to embarrass your child each year on their birthday; we don't need to hear it. At all. For as many missteps as there are on this record, there are also great moments. "You Scare the Hell Outta Me" simply could not have been recorded by anyone else, "Just Like You" is as sincere as JT gets, and "Love Me Today" sounds as jubilant today as it ever will. Keith Johnston first made his presence known on this album, and their self-titled follow-up saw the band finally joining the 1990s and making greater strides as a band. Unfortunately, they had to slog this recording along. Maybe it was a necessary step, but it's one you could easily discount if you're not careful.

92. COMMONWEALTH - Plankeye
Oh, Plankeye. Because of you, so many people became familiar with Tooth & Nail Records. Plankeye became synonymous with post-grunge alternative, and they got better with each passing recording. Many consider Commonwealth to be their greatest record, but I'm not convinced. Sure, you've got some great moments that make for memorable songs, and "Push Me Down (Veiled)" was a great modern power ballad that hinted at the emotional weight the band would ultimately reach on Relocation. So as a building block, Commonwealth is an important milestone in the band's history, and is definitely worth a few spins before passing on to something else. Scott Silleta's vocals wouldn't mature until after he left Plankeye, which is a shame. Imagine what kind of quality vocals the music in this album could have had in front of it.

91. CLEAN - Deitiphobia
I remember getting a promotional cassette of bands that would be performing at Cornerstone 1991, and among the signed artists on that sampler was an industrial band called Donderflegen (a non-German word which means absolutely nothing). After seeing the album cover for Clean in the bookstore, I was compelled to purchase it, and I heard obvious parallels between Deitiphobia and Donderflegen, eventually realizing it was the same band. Clean has its problems, for sure, but the freshness of the techno/guitar combo was enough fuel to overcome the monotone melodies and repetitive rhythms. I can forgive their Nine Inch Nails ripoff in "Enraptured", but their failure to maintain consistency was a problem, even back on this recording. Eventually releasing an album under the name Massivivid, they won a Dove Award for Best Hard Music album, but that album barely sold. As much as it hurts to like this album because of what it could have been, it's still good to whip and listen to from time to time, hence its inclusion on this list.

That's all for now. The next entry in this series will have us exploring albums 90-81. Until then, this should give you something to do to occupy all that spare time you have white waiting for my next blog entry.

Until next time, folks.

There Is No Box.

Saturday, January 7, 2017

Back Burner Games Presents: My Top 10 (+1) Games

I haven't been into tabletop gaming that long. So while reviewers and bloggers are giving us their expert opinions on what games are the absolute best, I'm over here in the corner, with a stupid grin on my face, smiling widely, trying to bridge the gap between hardcore gamers and new players. I want to introduce as many people as possible to the wonders of tabletop gaming.

So in compiling this list, I had some pretty strict criteria, and frankly, there was only one: I must own the game. I couldn't list a game that wasn't already in my collection, or that didn't find its way into my collection over the course of the last year.

If I think it's worthy enough to be on this list, I've had to have already put my money where my mouth is. So these are all games that I can go to my shelf, pull out, and teach to someone with little to no reminder prep.

11. Damage Report
Oh, what a problem Damage Report is. And what fun. At its core, it is a science-fiction based pickup-and-deliver game with a real time element. I won this as part of a package of games at a silent auction, and as I was researching how to play it, I discovered, where most of the resources about the game were found. I was astounded at the possibility of playing a game in real time, where every three minutes, a timer would sound and a new damage report card would come up, telling you where problems on the ship were occurring.

If this sounds like Space Alert, it's because it is. Sort of. It's the same premise, anyway. Space Alert just happens to have better art and was created by a better-known game designer, but it's still a real-time game.

There are issues with this game, namely the art. It sucks. I mean, it's pretty horrible. The publishers could have gone with cartoony art and it would have looked better. But visuals aside, this is a fun, tense game. A heart attack in a box, actually. There's a lot to remember, several systems in the ship that could go wrong all at once, and several people trying to do multiple things by working in tandem, but also by trying to communicate what their plans are. With each passing second, you feel the tension building, which makes this a prolonged shot of adrenaline. I've only played it twice, but I can't wait to get it to the table again, and that's what puts this game on my list.

The very first game I Kickstarted, Operation F.A.U.S.T. takes the concepts behind Coup to a new level. It's a game of hidden roles where the object isn't to eliminate the other players, but to buy art.

The true story behind the game goes back to World War II and the soldiers tasked with recovering artwork that had been confiscated by the Third Reich. You use your hidden roles to gain intel, steal intel from others, steal artwork, or other things. With enough intel, you can purchase forged documents and pieces of art, and the first player to collect $1M worth of art is the winner. The best part about this game is that each role card has two different functions -- a hand ability, which you use if you want to keep the card in your hand, and a table ability, which you use if you decide to discard your card and draw another role card from the pile. Coup only takes about 10-15 minutes, depending on the number of players, but Operation F.A.U.S.T. can take about an hour if you max out at 8 players, so gather people 'round the table and keep your secrets, 'cause it's time to collect some art.

The first modern tabletop board game I played was King of Tokyo, which I didn't latch onto right away. There were more rules than I was expecting, I went through several turns before I realized what was going on, and I forgot about using energy to purchase power up cards. But man, do I like rolling big, chunky dice.

Since that first time playing it, King of Tokyo stayed on my mind. When I got the opportunity to buy King of New York, the sequel, for about half the retail price, I had to take it. What I love about this iteration of the game is that there are more paths to victory than in its predecessor. Yes, it's a player elimination game (which isn't the best), but that's not the only way to win. The Superstar card and the Statue of Liberty card offer more ways to achieve points, and the buildings and military units are another way to create havoc. Of course, since you earn victory points by staying in Manhattan each turn, you can always ride whatever luck you think you have and hope your opponents won't attack you. But what are the odds, right?

For younger players that aren't used to strategy games, I'd whip out King of Tokyo. But for me and others like me that prefer more options, King of New York is the winner.

When I first found out about this game, I thought the idea was superb -- ships are dice, and dice are ships, and the dice are BEAUTIFUL. The problem with the dice is that the manufacturer didn't let the cure long enough, and they came out sticky. Luckily, Fun Forge and Passport Games were kind enough to replace the bad dice with new ones.

I still like the "sticky" dice better, because they're just so damn pretty. So I cleaned them up with soap and water, and viola! Good as new.

And thank God, because this game has TONS of replayability. The abstractness of making the ships able to reconfigure by using the dice as the ships, and reconfiguring consisting of simply rolling each die . . . it may not be the most elegant mechanic I've seen, but dang, is it fun. Yes, the randomness of rolling dice doesn't appeal to many, but I don't have a problem with it.

I won't tell you about the game or how to play it . . . you can look that up yourself. But you'll definitely want to. The way I see it, the mark of a great game is how easily you can teach it to others, and every time I've taught someone how to play Quantum, they've beaten me at it. Every time.

And it's SO PRETTY.

The newest addition on this list to my catalog, Tiny Epic Galaxies made it to the list, whereas Tiny Epic Western did not. Don't get me wrong, I really like TEW, and the way it looks on the table. But at its core, it's a worker placement game, and there are plenty of ways to make the game slow down through analysis paralysis. The theme's awesome, the meeples are cool, and the dice are bullets. What's not to like?

But Tiny Epic Galaxies has tiny ships. And great artwork. And custom dice. And you roll those custom dice. And you can re-roll some or all once for free on your turn. And did I mention it's in space? 

The fact that this game takes up a small footprint by coming in a small box is really deceptive, because there's a lot of depth here. There's a lot of strategy, and plenty of options by which you can achieve what you want. It's simple and complex at the same time, and that's what makes it so appealing to me.

Do you think, maybe, that I like games with science fiction themes?

Paradox was actually designed by someone local to my area, and I played the prototype of this game with him at Gen Con after I'd backed it on Kickstarter. And holy crap, am I glad I did. I was enthralled by the match-4 mechanic (found in video games like Bejeweled and Monster Busters) and how it worked with the drafting mechanic. Save worlds in multiple timelines, but saving the worlds engages the Quake, which fractures worlds and keeps you from earning the points you just gained. So repair and/or shield worlds, save more worlds across more timelines. There's a slight way that you can get ahead of your opponents by drafting the cards they want, but whatever path you choose to gain victory, you've got to work with the Matrix of energy discs in front of you to create the combinations that will give you the energy you need.

Thematically wonderful, the artwork is the major star of the show. Each of 15 worlds is represented by 15 different artist, and each one is fully formed, whimsical, and amazingly developed. Just looking at the cards of each world in triptych format is a joy in and of itself. Some people look down on Paradox for being fiddly, but I think that's one of its strengths, so it takes the #6 slot on my list.

When a game looks so interesting on the table that it turns people's heads, that's a great sign. Every picture of Scoville that I saw online made me want to check it out, but honestly, the box art told me this game was going to be FUN. 

A worker placement game of sorts, it's also a set collector. It's also a resource management game. It's quite a bit rolled into one, but you get to do it with these awesomely colored pepper pieces, and the game board is set up so that you "plant" the peppers into the pepper-shaped holes. You then move your farmer meeple throughout the board, harvesting peppers by going between the ones that have been planted. It's a fantastic combination of mechanics that also changes with each turn, as everyone bids for choice of turn order.

This is one that's slightly heavier than it really should be, as I would love to introduce new gamers to this one. The only reason it's not higher on my list is that the number of variables is so great, which can make it overwhelming for new players. Otherwise, this is such a fun game, a great one to bring to your regular meeting of board gamers. Somebody's gonna want to break this one out.

I have no doubt that if I owned Pandemic Legacy, it would be on this list, and it would be higher than #4. But Pandemic is one of the first games I purchased at full price (if you can call store credit in trade "paying full price"), and I'm so very glad I did. I wanted a game I could play solo, and this fit the bill very well. The tension of not knowing whether or not you're making the right choice from turn to turn is tasty indeed. Because you can only keep 7 cards in your hand, you're forced to discard down to 7 at the end of your turn, potentially throwing away cards that could help you. And once they're gone, they're gone -- there's no shuffling of the discard pile and starting over.

This cooperative game is a great example of piecing a puzzle together, but the puzzle's different each time you play. There are many ways you can lose the game, but only one way to win, so trying to figure out the best way to achieve that winning goal is a fun exercise. 

Pandemic has become a worldwide phenomenon for a reason -- it's a monster of a game. To have multiple expansions for it, and several spin-off games, available is quite a testament to how much staying power this game has. And yet, it's only #4 on my list.

How can this be?

Combine a classic game concept -- making up words using letters -- with a great deckbuilding mechanic, and you've got yourself one HELL of a great game. 

Paperback is fun. With a capital F-U-N. I honestly can't explain what it is about this game that draws me in. It's not the writer in me, it's not the deckbuilding player in me, and it's not because I have a huge vocabulary. I wish I could pinpoint it, but I think it's the simplicity. 

It's Scrabble as a deckbuilder, and without the pesky crossword board to limit you on what letters you can use. You want to create a 10-letter word? By all means, create one. You're only limited to the letters on the cards in your hand. If you've never tried a deckbuilding game before, I would highly recommend Paperback. It does a superb job of taking one of the oldest game ideas and spins it into a wonderfully themed package.

"Immersive" is the word that immediately comes to mind when Dead of Winter comes up in conversation. It's one you REALY WANT to introduce new gamers to, but because of the number of things you have to keep track of, you know they might get overwhelmed. But it's zombies! And it's surviving them! And killing them! And great artwork for so many characters! And the tension of rolling the exposure die EVERY TIME you travel or kill a zombie.

The crossroads cards take the tension up a notch by adding a story element that may or may not come into play on each person's turn. Will it be a positive thing, or a negative thing? Will this make your game harder, or easier to swallow?

This board game is as close to roleplaying-in-a-box that I've played, and it appropriately takes about the same amount of time as a one-shot RPG, depending on the number of players. It's so much fun, and even though you're moving pieces of cardboard around a table, you feel invested. This game makes you care what happens to these fake people. Will you live, die, or be turned? How will you survive?

And why is this game not #1 on my list? Well, that's simple. An RPG beat all the others out.

1. Fiasco
So technically, this is my plus-one. The El Gameo Numero Uno on my list is also the only RPG on my list - Fiasco, designed by Jason Morningstar. I have to credit Wil Wheaton and his TableTop video podcast series for putting me onto this game. It completely reminded me of the work I used to do while playing/working improv comedy professionally. I played it for the first time in June 2014 at a game convention, and I was sucked into how elegantly designed this game was. Not only did it REALLY scratch the improvisational itch for me, but it was one of the lightest RPGs I would ever come across, in terms of system and crunch. Because it's played out in scenes, like a movie, it feels about as natural as it can, and I've used Fiasco to introduce many to the wonders of roleplaying.

In addition, I've written and published 2 different playsets for Fiasco, one of which has won an award, and both of which can be found with every other published playset at

Sound off! What are your personal Top Ten tabletop games? What makes them stand out to you? Leave a comment and let me know.

There Is No Box.

Monday, November 14, 2016

Why We Fear, and How We're Part of the Problem

Monday, November 14th.
Last week, I publicly wondered on Facebook how people were so afraid of the world in the wake of a Trump election. The day after the election, I saw comments from people I know, people whom I knew to be intelligent, basically erupting in what I saw to be illogical rants and backhanded memes. Some were saying they had to go home because they just couldn't bring themselves to concentrate on work the day after the election. But a day later, a friend of mine posted a similar question to the one I had, asking why there was so much fear in the hearts of people. Many who responded to him also seemed to have no clue why the fear was there. Some tried to explain it away, even in belittling terms, but none of them connected. And the disconnect bothered me.

People made grand, hyperbolic predictions that Trump would bring in the end of the world, and send us socially back to the 1950s or before. That gay rights would be abolished. That women's rights would be removed. That racism would become the order of the day again. I even saw some people say they were afraid for their families. And while I always try to do the best I can to understand other peoples' points of view, I didn't get it. Then, within 24 hours, I began to see stories of people being taunted, intimidated, and attacked by people who were glad Trump won, and took it upon themselves to act like thugs. Idiots posted pictures of themselves in blackface in front of a Confederate flag (by the way, I do everything I can to keep from calling people "idiots" on the internet, but in this case, it fits). Graffiti, TONS of graffiti full of anti-gay and racial epithets. For whatever reason, these lowlifes felt empowered, and thought it would be a good idea to invoke the name of Trump in their work. Like he would condone it. And I didn't get that, either. Even though I had asked the same question, the previous day had brought examples of some reasons why people were afraid. As a Christian, I know that the Lord hasn't given me a spirit of fear, but of power, love, and a sound mind. But while I had no reason to fear, not everyone did. One of the things I know about fear is that many times, it's based in conjecture, confusion, and the unknown. Fear can come from things that are real, but also from things that are not real. Irrational things. Illogical things. Still . . . someone in fear is reacting to something, and I tried to unfold what that something was. So here was the response I offered to my friend's question, after having thought about it for 24 hours:
People jumped on the idea that Trump was a racist because he said he wanted to build a border wall, and stop illegal immigration. What he actually wants is to end the crime that comes with some of the illegal immigrants that come into our country. They commit crimes as illegals because it's easier to circumvent a system they're not entered into. But all they heard was 'Trump hates Mexicans', therefore he's racist. People jumped on the idea that he wanted to temporarily cease entrants of all Muslims into the U.S. until we could come up with a way to safely vet all refugees seeking asylum, so as to rule out any potential terrorist threats. A sane choice, given that some of the sanctuary cities have had reports of violence and terrorism by some professed Muslims. But all they heard was 'Trump hates Muslims', therefore he's a bigot. Trump has said that he supports the idea of traditional marriage, therefore the LGBT community thinks he is attacking them directly. Forget the fact that he actually is a strong proponent of gay rights. The marriage equality thing is one on which they don't agree, but to the LGBT community, that's like Holy Grail. It's the one thing that makes them equal to the rest of the population. He made crude comments about what amounts to sexually assaulting women several years ago. Inexcusable, yes, but some people think this will boost the narrative of fostering rape culture if he takes office. The media has painted a narrative (actually, it's more the bloggers, the opinionators, and the people who won't actually do their research) of Trump as a misogynist, a racist, a homophobe, a religious bigot, and a nationalist. Two groups have clung to this narrative -- his detractors, and idiots who actually are using that same inaccurate narrative as license to begin harassing people of color, non-Christian religions, and the gay community. It's that latter group of hooligans that the first group is afraid of. And if the stories that have been popping up over the last 48 hours are genuine, then we need to have a sympathetic ear. Because even though it's not Trump that's condoning this kind of activity, it's still happening. And it still needs to be stopped. Their fear may be based on a lie, but perpetrators of evil are believing the same lie . . . and that's reason for all of us to be concerned.
I firmly believe that if you have a discriminatory problem with a large group of people -- a certain race, a religion (or denomination), atheists, gay people, straight people, even people of a particular generation -- then the problem you have more than likely stems from your interactions with a very few people from that group. That at some point in your life, something happened that caused you to view ALL people in that group the way you viewed one or a few from that group. Maybe they did something to you. Maybe you've heard news stories about people from a particular group doing evil against someone else. Whatever the case, it's very likely your sample size was tremendously small. Which means your viewpoint is skewed somewhat. Now, this happens to all of us, but some of y'all need to admit it. For instance, I had a friend in college who refused to give to The Salvation Army because they were affiliated with the Methodist church. This stemmed from an encounter she'd had a few years before where she attended a service at a Methodist church, and the minister, who knew she was Catholic, began to say harsh, mean, and very hateful things from the pulpit about those who practice Catholicism, all while looking in her direction. She felt belittled, betrayed (the man had never treated her badly before), and embarassed. And from that day on, she decided she would rather stop giving to a charitable foundation whose goals including feeding, clothing, and sheltering our homeless population, among other things. So he was wrong in his actions towards her. But she was just as wrong in her response.

To my friends and family that haven't had to deal with people taunting you, or threatening your life, or the lives of your friends or family, if you've never had to defend yourself from an attacker who hated you because of the sexuality you claim, or the race you were born with, or the religion you practice, then you don't know the fear that many of these people talk about. And until you become the target of an attack, like some of these people actually have, then you likely won't know that fear, either. I'd like to say that I've been through my share of "persecution" as a Christian, as I've been put through the wringer by many people because they didn't agree with my faith or thought I was weird for being a Jesus freak. But the truth is that I've never had to defend myself against violence because of what I believe. So I'm very fortunate in that regard. And while I can't understand through experience the fear that some of these people are feeling, I can't disregard it, either. To my liberal friends who have ever used the words "bigot", "fascist", "homophobe", "racist", "xenophobic", and "misogynist" when talking about Trump supporters, or people that simply disagree with you certain social issues, please listen up. You're wrong to use those terms against a blanket group of people. Okay? You're simply wrong when you do that. Own that. The vast majority -- the VAST majority -- of people who voted for Trump don't match the definition of those words, AND YOU KNOW THAT. Yet you spew them at us in an effort to try and justify to yourselves why we would possibly think differently than you. If we become villainized to you, it's easier for you to write us off as lunatics. Now, you might be thinking about how right you are, and in your state of rightness, you don't want that level of understanding. You don't want to try and understand someone that doesn't believe what you believe. Fine, that's your right. But if that's the case, shut your mouth. Stop engaging them. Surround yourself only with people that are exactly like you and agree with everything you believe, all the time. That's the only way you're ever going to be at peace with the things people say and do. And even as you're reading this, you see the fallibility of that suggestion, that there's no possible way you can do that without alienating people you love, work with, and buy goods and services from. Which means that if you do continue to engage people in the way that you have been, the only thing it will accomplish is to show others how immature you've been. To everyone, we all need to try and have some understanding. You don't know everything that others around you have been through. You don't know if that gay man got attacked by some random dude just because he was holding his boyfriend's hand in public. You don't know if that black family you seem to know so well has ever had problems with being harassed by neighbors, or law enforcement, or total strangers because of their race. You don't know, so you can't experience their pain and frustration first hand. So before you litter Facebook with your memes, rants, or vilifying tirades about anything relating to a position you disagree with, STOP. THINK. Wonder what life would be like if any of those things had happened to you or someone you love. How angry would you be if a good friend got raped? How terrified would you feel if someone defaced your home? How much would you want to step out and face the world if the majority of the people around you thought you might be a terrorist because of your skin color or religion? In full disclosure, I must be responsible for my own actions. There have been times that I've made horrible blanket statements before about certain groups of people, and not everything I've said has been wise. I've apologized for those times, and I apologize for them again. But I will never apologize for what I believe. And I will never mock or ridicule you for what you believe. Here's an example of why I take that stance. A few months ago, I had to drop a friendship with someone whom I had previously respected a great deal. I hated that I had to do it. As a member of a minority group, he had spent a significant chunk of his life fighting against bullies. He had been attacked at an earlier age, and that was just one example of the injustice he faced. But over time, he had let his anger grow so much that he actually began to get antagonistic with people who disagreed with him. He actually told me during one conversation that he didn't want to try and understand where I and other people were coming from. He used words like "bigot", "fascist", "crazy", "insane", "mentally ill", and others to describe me and others like me. He didn't do this peripherally, he did this in direct conversations with me. I was so sad for him, because he had officially become a bully, the very thing that he'd spent so much time railing against. He saw me as an enemy now, even though I loved him like a brother.
So I was disappointed, but I still had hope. After all, bullies I can deal with. Bullies can change. And then, one day, he took something I told him and something that someone else close to me had said and posted those things to his timeline as examples of people to avoid. That went beyond bullying, beyond insult. That was a betrayal of trust. Done. Friendship over. Immediately. Clean break. I still pray for him. I still wonder how he's doing. But I can't engage him anymore. His heart and mind may change in the future, and I believe people deserve second chances. But he doesn't need my friendship to live his life, nor do I need him in mine. Our absence from each other's lives won't affect either one of us all that much. And I firmly believe that not everyone is beyond hope, but even the Scripture says that with some people, you have to wipe the dust from your feet, and you move on to the next town, move on to others that will receive you and what you have to say. Here's my point: we need to realize that whatever issues we face, we have to face them together. If we continue to act like the village is dead, like what's yours is yours and what's mine is mine and if you're in trouble you're out of luck, then we're only going to wind up worse off than we are now. The world we live in? WE are the ones responsible for creating it. WE allowed our society to get to this point. And WE have the responsibility to come together before we tear each other apart. So go and act in love. Have that conversation over coffee. Break bread with them. Hell, play a board game with them. You'd be amazed how something as simple as friendly, fun competition can open doors. Ignore the incendiary and inflammatory comments from detractors, or respond in a private message rather than a public forum. Find out WHY someone believes the way they do. Get to know the person rather than their ideology, because a person is more than their ideology. They always are. Don't react. Respond. There Is No Box.

Tuesday, September 13, 2016

Better Late Than Never.

There's this show that just finished its short summer run on NBC called Better Late Than Never. It's about four aging celebrities -- William Shatner, George Foreman, Terry Bradshaw, and Henry Winkler -- who take a world tour to several different cities so they can experience different cultures. Watching the exploits of men their ages as they try to climb hundreds of stairs so they can look at Mount Fujiyama, sleep in a capsule hotel, or be part of a Japanese talk show, among other things, is quite hilarious.

But did you know what's really awesome about what they did on this trip? The fact that they actually did it.

William Shatner, Henry Winkler, Terry Bradshaw, Jeff Dye, George Foreman
They decided to go out and do something they'd wanted to do, but had never done before, either due to schedules, work, family business, et cetera. Whatever the reason, no matter how legitimate it was, they simply never took the time. They were never deliberate in making it happen until they decided one day to pull the trigger and go for it (of course, input from producers notwithstanding).

One thing I find interesting about this show is that these four men have another guy going with them, comedian and actor Jeff Dye, a man significantly younger than the rest of the entourage. He's the one that actually planned the trip, took the time to research where they would stay and what activities were available. He's the one that put the plan down on paper so that they trip could happen. All of that star power, spread over decades of television, movies, sports, music, and marketing, and it took a fifth guy to help make the trip happen.

I firmly believe this is because he had a plan. If he hadn't had a plan, they never would have gone on the trip. So, what's the equivalent of planning for a major worldwide trip in our normal, everyday lives?

Setting goals.

When you have a goal to aim for, you have something worth achieving, especially if that goal is tied to a dream. Dreams don't happen on their own, and just one goal being met isn't going to fulfill one's dream in its entirety.

But what good is a dream without goals? And what good are your goals if you don't make them tangible?

Statistics (I don't know from where . . . it's late, and I don't feel like looking up anything significant, so let's just go with "Statistics") show that people who write down their goals have a much higher chance of attaining them that people who do not. The reason you've never paid off that debt, written that novel, or made your marriage better? They're all the same -- you probably didn't have a written goal that you could work towards.

In my life, there are plenty of things I haven't done . . . YET . . . for various reasons. No matter how legitimate those reasons are, they pale in comparison to the fact that if I write down goals that help lead, bit by bit, to the fruition of my dream, I will begin to see my dream take shape. And since dreams start with ideas, I decided to make my ideas public.

NOTE: this is pre-writing down. As I type this, I realize that I haven't actually put pen to paper and written these things down yet, so I will still have to eat my own words by the time I'm done writing this.

1. RECORD THE ALBUM I'VE BEEN WORKING ON SINCE BEFORE I GOT A CALL FROM A PRODUCER SAYING THAT HE WANTED TO WORK WITH ME BECAUSE HE LIKED MY SONGS. This will require a lot of steps, a lot of little goals, but let's just say the weapon's been cocked and loaded for a long time, and I've been somewhat scared to pull the trigger.

This will take time, because of my inability to get together to game with people on a regular basis. But with 3 playtests already under my belt, I know what direction I want this to go in.

I had A TON of fun playtesting a loose solo variant of this game, much more fun than I thought I would have had while I was actually putting it together. I think I have something really worthwhile here, and I don't know of any other games that use the theme in quite the same way I've developed.

4. Put the 2 RPG setting ideas and 3 other board game ideas that I've had into some kind of practice, actually coming up with an overall theme, mechanics, and specific elements to make the game work. I know that one of these ideas has a unique combination mechanic that I don't think any other game has, at least that I'm aware of. So I could be sitting on a really great idea, so long as I don't keep sitting on it.

Like the title of the program said, it's better late than never. Just because I'm 40 doesn't mean I can't still conquer the world.

There Is No Box.

Monday, July 18, 2016

The Back Burner Podcast - Episode 6: Interview with Mike Perna (Part 1)

In today's episode of The Back Burner Podcast, I interview Mike Perna with InnRoads Ministries, and host of The MacGuffin Factory and Gamestore Prophets podcasts. In this, the first of 2 parts, we talk about what got us into gaming, and why we love it so much. We also discuss what InnRoads Ministries is doing, and how its mission is one that all Christians and gamers alike can get behind.


Here's what you're missing if you haven't heard of HeroQuest.
The Pac-Man board game, Donkey Kong board game, and Zaxxon board game from the 1980s.

We also discuss how Miniature Market is the type of place could bankrupt us both.

The love-hate relationship with Munchkin.

Mike's "MacGuffin" podcast co-host Peter's other podcast, Saving The Game.

Connect with me!
My Facebook page, and my Google+ profile, in case you're so inclined to connect with me.

There Is No Box.

Wednesday, March 2, 2016

The Back Burner Podcast - Episode 5: Fiasco - Showdown at Blue Camel (Part 2)

In today's episode of The Back Burner Podcast, we conclude the Boomtown playset game we started in Episode 4. Sam McQuiggan, Tina Mayer, and Jason Kelley help me finish this awesome session.

Fiasco by Jason Morningstar can be purchased at Bully Pulpit Games' website, and "Boomtown" is one of four playsets included with the base game.

El Guapo may not have known what "plethora" meant, but that doesn't mean you don't have to know.

Find more great playsets for this game at

Episode of Wil Wheaton's TableTop podcast featuring Fiasco
TableTop's setup for Fiasco

Links to the playsets that I've created:
Reunion: Class of 1994 
Teach Me How to Demon (award winning, don'tcha know)

My Facebook page, and my Google+ profile, in case you're so inclined to connect with me.


There Is No Box. 

Wednesday, February 24, 2016

The Back Burner VIDEO PODCAST - Episode 1: Paradox

Ladies and gentlemen, may I introduce to you the brand spanking new Back Burner Video Podcast!

This video podcast will be an extension of the audio form of The Back Burner Podcast, because I know after 4 audio episode you've all been wondering what face lurks behind that voice for radio. My ugly mug has inspired many great and terrible things, so I hope you enjoy.

Future episodes won't always be as snazzy, but they will be fun and entertaining. Enjoy!

There Is No Box.