I promised a few friends I’d put together some tabletop game reviews – the same friends who were kind enough to suggest to me family-suitable games, particularly now that my bride and I aren’t working evenings.

The first such game is an award-winning card game called Munchkin, and was developed by Steve Jackson of Austin, TX.  Munchkin is a role-playing game without the role-playing.  Essentially, it’s all about the action.  You know, the opening of doors, the killing of monsters, and the taking of treasure.  There’s one major point of the game that’s different.  While it’s a “collaborative game”, players are encouraged, from time to time, to (within the context of the game) “stab your buddy.”

The rules of the game can be found here in PDF format.  I’,ll not spend time explaining them.  The goal of the game is simple: to get to level 10.  All players start at level 1.  It’s a pretty basic race.  If you want to see game play in action, check out Wil Wheaton’s TableTop episode.

Just like a full-on role-playing adventure game (a la Dungeons & Dragons), players come in various genders, races, and classes.  Only in Munchkin, all player-characters start as humans with no class and with whatever sex their players were born.  Thus, mine is the only male character to start the game in our family.

The game itself comes with a single 6-sided die (d6 for you gamers) and two decks of cards – doors and treasures.  Oh, and the rules.  There is no board (you can make one – like my younger Princess did!) and there are no tokens to count character levels.  In the TableTop episode, they have a board (from the Deluxe version of the game) and tokens to move on the board through the levels.  Another YouTube video shows players using 10-sided dice (d10) to count their levels.  For the uninitated, the d10 counts from 0-9, and, well, the game doesn’t require a 10 because that just means that it’s over and the winner is declared.

The whole game is so tongue-in-cheek from the rules, to the artwork, to the names of the monsters, and even the game mechanics.  Even determining who starts the game is snarky. “Decide who goes first by rolling the dice and arguing about the results and the meaning of this sentence and whether the fact that a word seems to be missing any effect.”  The point is, it really doesn’t matter.

Player-characters take turns “kicking open doors” – that is, taking a door card.  If there’s a monster, they need to fight it or run.  If not, then they are subject to a curse or get to keep whatever card they get and add it to their hand.  If they want, they can fight a monster from within their hands, or do what’s called “looting the room”.  This is simply taking (without showing the other players) another door card to play later.

Play rotates around the table with various activities that earn levels, and some that lose levels.  All monsters have something called “bad stuff” that happens if the player-character is unable to run away.  Not all monsters will actually kill the player-character.  Regardless, characters don’t completely die.  They just start over.  This is better than someone having to leave the game table.

The game mechanics are impressive.  For example, there are Big and Small Items.  Big Items are the only item that a character may hold at a time.  However, an infinite number of Big or Small items may be held in the character’s pack.  And characters (whether elf, halfling, human or other) all only have 2 hands, 2 feet, and 1 head.  So a character may not employ 2 items of headgear or combinations of items that require or more hands.  This just makes sense in the Munchkin world.

One of the awesome mechanics of actual gameplay is that players can bargain for help fighting monsters.  Combat strength of a single character may not happen to be more than that of a particular monster during a turn, so the player may offer some of the monster’s treasure for help.  This might be done with offering any number of treasure items and even to the point of giving the other player the choice of which treasures to receive.  It should be noted that once a character is committed to battle, another player may add difficulty to the monster or decrease combat strength for the character fighting.  No, this is not your average 10 minute card game.

In fact, the game might take an 60-90 minutes or so with characters helping and harming each other.  In fact, I don’t think we actually ever needed to shuffle the cards yet in the middle of a game.  With the Princesses being 14 and 12, there’s been a lot of laughter and fun.  That’s why I chose it – that and the awesome encouragement from several game players I’ve “met” online.  It’s a fun and snarky way to enjoy some quality family time.

I’ll add this.  The game developer recommends ages 10+.  User feedback via suggests 12+ with 10+ being a close second in the poll.  And it’s suitable for 3-6 players with 4-6 being recommended.  Because it’s hard to gang up on someone when there are only 2 of you.

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Have you ever heard of the Restaurant Dog?  No?  I’m surprised, because my family first became aware of this magical little creature several years ago.  We were out to lunch together at a midweek pizza buffet.  My young children had this unsanitary habit of jumping off their booth seats and onto the floor under the table.  Why?  Because they were still of the age they were learning to clean up their own messes.  Note: they are now adolescents and this behavior seems to have self-eradicated.  Every little piece of pepperoni or sausage or breadstick dropped was dutifully followed by a small child near-leaping off her booster seat to scoop it off the floor.  In hindsight, I’m really just glad they didn’t opt to eat the, um, fruits of their labors.

In order to convince the little monsters not to participate in this new ritual, I shared with them and their mother the story of the Restaurant Dog:

At every restaurant, there is a dog.  The dog is not given dog food (much to my professional dog trainers’ chagrin, no doubt) all day, but rather is trained only to eat what has fallen from table, mouth, seat, or lap that falls to the floor.  This phenomenal and magnificent beast (photo above) is permitted, nay required, to eat all the scraps in the restaurant.

When the children have asked why they have never seen the Restaurant Dog, I politely and ever-so-deceitfully explained that the Restaurant Dog isn’t permitted on the restaurant floor in the dining area because there might be someone (heaven forbid) allergic to dogs and the owner would face a grave lawsuit should someone get sick from his or her allergies.  And, we wouldn’t want that.

Over the last several years, the Princesses have given me the, “Dad, we know there’s no Restaurant Dog!” retort.  However, while visiting some friends, it was pure joy when they shared the legend of the Restaurant Dog with their new friends.  Their friends laughed with them at the story and their friends’ parents (our friends) were hearing the same story from my bride and me.

I’m willing to bet that, when they have children of their own, the legend of the mighty Restaurant Dog will be passed on to our grandchildren.

What traditions and stories have you started, on a lark, in an effort to engage your children or nieces or nephews in appropriate behavior?  Please share in the comments.

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When is the last time you had guests come over to your home for a meal?  Yes, to your house?  Why not?  For many in these busy and challenging times, we fail to open our home up to guests.  Sometimes it is simply because our circle of friends, with the internet and international communication being what it is, is remote and our local connections few.   One of the biggest challenges is that the average person probably has somewhere between 2-3 close friends.  Further, those friends change when we get married or into other committed relationships, not to mention have children.

Many people justify the lack of opportunities for guests in their home by citing being too busy to clean and get ready for company.  You know what?  The reality is that your friends probably don’t care too much about what the place looks like (as long as you aren’t a crazy cat lady or hoarder of inanimate objects).  They care about you – or at least about the awesome meal you’ve prepared.

Meanwhile, if you do invite others to your home for a meal on occasion, what is your motivation for doing so?  Are you truly providing the meal and hospitality to demonstrate love and blessing to others?  Or are you doing so to get some emotional need met?

There is something to having people over for a meal when you genuinely are serving someone else.  I’m an introvert, but I love to have people over.  I’m just not very connected locally at the moment.  My favorite time of year is the summer.  Grilling and beers.  Frankly, it doesn’t even matter how many people attend as long as there is some sort of burnt sacrifice and fermented beverage.  I can handle it.  I admit that reciprocity would be nice.  But, at this point, I’d just like to be able to have 4-6 other people (either a guys’ night, or couples with my wife) over for dinner.  That would be incentive for me to get the barbecue pit cleaned up and enjoy some wood-fired barbecue.

A friend suggested that a nice hobby to complement the grilling would be to engage in homebrewing as a hobby.  She suggested it’s a great ice-breaker / conversation starter.  I’m intrigued because, really, unless you have established friendships, who really wants to spend the night / evening talking about what they do for a living and their kids?

If you might be at least an ambivert or extrovert, you probably are wondering to yourself, or even out loud, “What’s wrong with that?”  Probably nothing, unless repeating those conversations just saps you of social energy and capital.

So, 2015 is right around the corner and, well, winter is rough around here in the Syracuse, NY suburbs where we average almost 11′ of snow a season.  However, I am committed to monthly gatherings between May and September around the deck somehow.  It might only be burgers and dogs, but there will be beer.  Guests will be invited – whether they show is a different story.

How do you connect with others?  And, if you struggle in this, what you are committed to do to change this (assuming you want to)?

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I am thankful for the men in my crew who do our best to get together at least once a year to connect.  All nine of us realize that we were ordained to meet nearly (some of us) 10 years ago and grow closer to one another.  My friendship with these guys is a deep sweet fountain of water to my soul.  Water, because, like most American men, I live much of my life in the desert.

These men met me there on various adventures that fell within their own deserts.  They help to ground me and help me to feel less overwhelmed at life, much of which many of us live in our heads.  While we met through a ministry of international proportions, our ties have sustained well beyond the truths presented to us through that ministry.  I.e. it kickstarted our hearts and lives, giving us the respective shoves we needed.

Unfortunately, the closest any of these men live to me is a distance of approximately 300 miles.  It takes me at least a half day to get to one of them.  My connection locally is incredibly limited.

There are plenty of opportunities to meet similarly-minded men through church, which is probably where I would have made my deepest friendships had we actually attended the same church in the same town.  The challenge that I have is that the men locally seem to need some sort of goal or agenda for meeting together.  From what has been explained to me, it’s about keeping score and advancing through ranks of some sort.

I am thoroughly discouraged and disconnected over it.  I’m actually rebellious over it.

But I’m still alone.  My wonderful wife and Princesses are incredible during this season of my life.  My wife is working to get a business established and working part time retail for now over two years.  I have the crew of men who connect with me often through social media, phone and email.  I also have a community of mutual support through a few Facebook Groups that have seen me and my wife complete our first 5k last year, have seen me through a new job, have seen me execute some thoroughly challenging decisions in the past 16 months.

As I enter the winter season in one of the top ten snowiest metropolitan areas in America, I struggle even more gravely.  For many others, the season is one of reliving and grieving the loss of a loved one earlier this year, or in years past, continuing to struggle with finding meaning and hope and connection.  My prayer is for all of us to find that connection – again.

How deep are your connections?  If they do not exist or lack the depth that you wish, what are you doing about it?  Are you just lamenting what you are missing, or are you looking for opportunities to connect?  Share your story in the comments below.


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It’s that dreaded time of year again. Christmas parties. We’re supposed to love them, right?  The more parties on the iPhone calendar the better, right?  Right?

Not true for everyone.  In fact, according to the MBTI percentage chart, the research shows that approximately 50% of the test subjects are actually introverts.  I’m well aware that many people just get tired of the perceived “extrovert bashing”, but many introverts struggle with what extroverts consider normal human interaction in the workplace and socially.

Every year around this time, I challenge my patients to push a bit outside their comfort zone.  Not much; just a bit.  Since my patients are “at-risk” for triggers to use drugs or alcohol, according to their addictions, the challenge is knowing where the comfort zone line is and to have a backup plan that will help keep them safe and abstinent from use.

I’ve perused the research and tried a few of these suggestions out myself.  But I’m hoping that you might have some more.

1.  Show up late.  Yes, I said it.  Don’t be the first one there.  In fact, try to be among the last to show up.  Not always possible if there’s a meal going on with the gathering, like Thanksgiving, but you want to be late because parking is often managed on the “last in, first out” model.  This means that, if you’re the first one to show up, you’ll be boxed in by everyone else’s vehicles.  This is really bad if they’re consuming alcohol.

2.  Help out.  Don’t just be a guest.  Make yourself useful.  Your host or hostess might decide not to take you up on your offers from assistance, so, as a backup plan, put yourself in a position to pull up your sleeves in a slick move to remove pressure from making conversation with a bunch of people you may not already know.  And, if they do talk to you, it may be just to ask where something is.  You might know or you can ask the host or hostess.

3.  I know there’s a chance that it’s cold and even snowing (because it’s winter in the Northern Hemisphere), but consider, even if you don’t smoke cigarettes, taking occasional “smoke breaks”.  Yes, without the cigarettes.  People think you need to smoke to take a 5-10 minute break every once in a while.  You don’t.  I give you permission to take a break.  Please consider giving yourself the same permission.  I’ve seen this work with adolescents rather well.  There is no stigma.  Kids just “get it”.  And, at their ages, they accept that their friends are weird.  The world might be a better place if adults accepted that, too.

4.  There’s always the “bathroom trick”.  In case going outside for a walk in the neighborhood is not an option.  Make sure you wash your hands because, well, people may get all wonky if they don’t hear the sink running in there.

5.  Finally, give yourself an expectation.  If a gathering is 3 hours (again, if there isn’t a formal meal involved), give yourself 60 minutes.  See how you’re doing.  I’ve done this before with my bride.  She’s a bit more social than I am and our agreement is 60 minutes.  If we’re in the same room at the 60 minute mark, she’ll get my attention.  If not, there’s an email (we don’t text) to my phone.  It’s just a “check-in”.  “Are you ready to leave?”  I find that I’m able to stretch myself a bit after letting her know I’m good – and a request to check in at another 30 or 60 minutes.

Having the support of friends and loved ones means a lot.  My wish for you this holiday season (whatever your tradition) is that you connect in meaningful and life-affirming ways.

What are your hints for surviving the winter party madness?

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It’s the season in the Hokie home.  At the moment, we’re working five jobs.  We’re lazy compared to some people, though.

Regardless, we know it’s temporary and a push through the next month and a half.  Hope you had a great Thanksgiving with your family.  From our family to yours, be blessed.

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My bride knew I was going to propose.  She even knew I would be asking her father if he would permit me to marry her.  Here’s how it went down – as far as I recall.

Her parents were visiting her sister’s home (staying there) from Florida.  It was the first I’d met them, if I remember correctly.  We both lived in Virginia and my bride would be spending a day shopping with her mother and sister later in the week.  My plan was to selfishly divert their shopping in order to help her seek out a wedding gown.  In order to do that, we visited them after work one evening.  As it turned out, I had her father’s attention in the enclosed porch while the ladies were all in the house.

What I was not aware of was her mother’s pacing.  My beloved had detained her mother from returning to the porch where my future father-in-law and I were hammering out whether I was fit enough a marriage prospect for his daughter.  My future mother-in-law was evidently wearing a path through the kitchen and dining area in some sort of angsty behavior – and one that did not see her speaking with my bride either.  Of course, this added to the suspense encountered by my better half.

What the ladies had no way to know was how long the conversation needed to be.  I think I had his approval in something between 2-3 minutes while we kept discussing other business for around the next 10-20 – our ladies continued to leave us to our words.

Soon after, I went back into the house to invite the ladies back to the deck.  It had begun raining, thunderstorming pretty severely.  Interestingly enough, it also rained on our wedding day 5 months later.  They say that’s a good sign.  I’m not superstitious, but if we hadn’t been working our butts off and through the harder times in our marriage, I’d be clinging to the “good omen” that comes from a rainy wedding.

My friend Wayne Jacobsen will admit to being completely naive over what love is when he and Sarah first got married.  He will admit that it only grows deeper if you continue to work on it and be united through all the struggles and challenges.  And I’ll second both of these sentiments.  It’ll be 17 years in about 5 minutes.  She’s working her retail gig tonight and we’re celebrating tomorrow.  We have a few traditions.  And we include the kids.  Because they’re a part of our story and it’s important that they see how we celebrate our marriage – just not everything. 😉

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