Tuesday, November 15, 2016

Chara Games Review

Commissioned {Chara Games}

We received the Commissioned board game from Chara Games to review. This was a game that originally started on Kickstarter and is now available at online retailers and possibly your LFGS (local friendly game store). Commissioned was designed by Patrick and Katherine Lysaght, who are also the founders of Chara Games. Commissioned is their first game that they designed and published together. They also have a second game coming out, that was recently on Kickstarter, called 3 Seeds. They did not design the game, but they published it. Chara Games is new to publishing games, but from the comments I have read on Kickstarter and from other board game reviewers, they produced a high quality game and even got it out to backers before the expected delivery date.

Commissioned {Chara Games}
$34.86 (current Amazon price at the time of this post)

Commissioned is for 2-6 players, ages 14+ (recommended age, but younger players can certainly learn how to play if they are experienced gamers), and plays in about an hour. We played our first game in just over an hour, but the first "learning game" typically take extra time. With more players, it will likely be 60-90 minutes. There are multiple missions that you can play, so I expect play times will vary.

Commissioned {Chara Games}

Commissioned is a game where you play the Apostles in the early days of Christianity. You and the other Apostles are traveling around trying to spread the word of God and build churches in cities across the map. In the first scenario we needed to have one follower in each city and all of the books completed. On each turn you also have to play a threat card, and in our first game we got the three worst cards back to back at the start of the game. It really set us back and made the rest of the game much harder. We did fail the first game, but came really close. With one more turn we might have won. We actually don't mind playing games where we lose, but I can imagine younger players would be upset by that. However, it's a neat part of the game because it's based on historical events.

Commissioned {Chara Games}
Commissioned is really interesting because it teaches how Christianity started and spread. It also teaches about history and the geography of the world 2,000 years ago. The threat cards deal with real obstacles the early Apostles would have faced. 

The Commissioned board game comes with a rule book and a theme appendix. This is especially helpful if you plan to use this game to teach about Christianity. I think it would be a really interesting game to have at church, on church group trips, Bible camp, etc. It could also be used in a theology classroom. 

The board is double-sided and has a linen finish (which is a high quality finish and looks and feels lovely). It is double-sided because you can play with 2-6 players and to keep the game balanced there are larger areas and more locations to cover with the higher player count. 

The footprints at the top is where you put the four draw piles. These are cards that you can buy throughout the game. They have different costs and the cards have weaker abilities for the cheaper cards and stronger abilities for the more expensive cards. The candles on the left is where you track when you lose locations or when bad things happen. Snuff out enough of them and you lose the game. 

The cards on the left of the board are the threat cards which determine what kind of obstacle you're going to face that turn. Sometimes it's that an Apostle will be imprisoned, sometimes it prevents followers from moving, other times it cuts your flock in half. If you play through that entire deck you also lose.  

The book locations at the bottom of the board is where you store the books when you complete them. You simply take the card with the matching book and slip it halfway under the board so that it shows sticking out. The first time we played we did this part wrong. We completed the books and marked it with a white cube, leaving the card in our hand. A few turns in we realized we had been doing it wrong and kept it in mind for the next game. It makes a lot of sense to "spend" the card, because it helps to keep your deck size down. 

Here are the components: decks of cards, player cards, first player marker, white follower cubes, meeples, mission cards, cardboard tokens, and Apostle player pieces. 

There are six player cards, which are based on the Apostles. The backside of the cards have historical art on them. We always love when publishers put art on the backside of player cards. Each of the Apostles have a special ability. For the first game we chose at random, but in future games we might want to choose more strategically, because then their special ability could help during the game. My character's special ability was almost no help in our first game.

The components are thick cardboard. 

I played Barnabas in the first game. I chose him at random, and barely used his special special ability. Each round you draw six cards from your deck, then you choose two to play. You place these face down on your character sheet. Then when everyone is done choosing, you reveal the cards. The person with the first person marker gets to choose which of the actions they want to use. You can discuss which ones would be best to play, unless a card says otherwise. Then you move cubes, player pieces, or spend cards, and the first person marker is handed to the next player. We have only played with two players so far. After two rounds, you have two cards leftover in your hand. These cards have a value on them and that lets you "spend" them on the special cards. These cards can give you special abilities, like clearing obstacles, extra movement, books, get out of jail, etc.

The above picture shows how we played during the first game and explains why we played wrong. We played on the same side of the table, and I had the baby on my lap, so we put the cards at the base of the game so they were easier to reach. It took up the space where we should have been putting the spent book cards.

The goal of the first mission was to complete all of the books and have at least one follower in each of the locations. We managed to complete all of the books, but were four locations short. One more turn would have won us the game, but sometimes you run out of time. We ran through the threat deck, so we did as much as we could manage on the last few turns. We took mental notes and made sure we didn't make the same mistakes on the next play through.

We don't usually buy religious games, but Commissioned was really well received. We loved the quality of the board game and components for its price. We enjoyed the historical side of it and actually learned from the game. We haven't had a chance to play it with our friends yet, but we have a few Christian friends who are looking forward to trying it. They checked it out while they were over and agreed that it looks interesting and unique. We look forward to our next few games of Commissioned!

Look out for our review of 3 Seeds, the newest game from Chara Games, which was recently on Kickstarter.

Commissioned {Chara Games}

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Commissioned {Chara Games}

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Monday, November 7, 2016

The Critical Thinking Co. Vowel Sounds Song and Game Software Review

Language Arts {The Critical Thinking Co.™}
We received the Vowel Sounds Song and Game™ Software - 2-PCs Win Download from The Critical Thinking Co.™ to review. This software is for children in Pre-K to 2nd grade. The app uses the Vowel Sounds Song to teach children long and short vowel sounds. There are five songs. The first teaches the words in the song. Children learn to identify the words with vowels in them.

Language Arts {The Critical Thinking Co.™}

The software download can be used on 2 PCs ($3.99) or 6 PCs ($7.99). There is also an iOS app, Android app, and Windows app available. The software will only work on Windows computers. We used one to download the software on the laptop we use for homeschooling. At first the software didn't work and said it required a certain program to be installed on our laptop, but after trying to set it up a few times it updated and we had no issues after that.

The long and short vowel song is easy to follow and both of my kids were able to pick it up right away. The software is designed for one student to use at a time, and the game picks up where you left off when you open it. However, there is a menu that lets you choose which game you want to work on, in case you need more review. 

When you enter the menu screen, you can check on the progress of each game. It has a score to show you how much is completed, and which game you are currently on. We aimed to complete one game a week and review previous games when they needed. 

The letters are a font that is easy to read and the pictures are large. 

Some of the pictures have a red arrow, which points to the part of the picture that uses the vowel letter. So in this example, it was pointing to the egg, instead of the whole picture of the nest. Some of the pictures and word choices were confusing at first, but my kids got used to them after listening to the song a few times. For example, the word unity was used for U and that wasn't a word they have used before. 

My daughter struggles with differentiating vowel sounds, so I thought this game would help her. She enjoyed singing the song and memorized it, but even after using it for a few weeks, she still has some issue telling vowel sounds apart. Not the ones in the song, but the ones in her workbooks. But now when we are going over a sound, we refer back to the song to help her remember which sound she is trying to work on.

We used the Vowel Sounds Song and Game software three times a week, usually every other day. We will continue using the long and short vowel sounds game as part of our literacy activities. It is definitely helping my daughter, so we hope to see more improvement in the next few weeks.

The Critical Thinking Co. also has other fun apps for kids, such as the Alphabet Song Game for toddlers to 1st graders, Letter Sounds Song and Game for Pre-K to 1st graders, and Fun-Time Phonics! for Pre-K to 2nd graders. We loved using the Fun-Time Phonics! workbook last year.

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Language Arts {The Critical Thinking Co.™}

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Thursday, November 3, 2016

Homeschool Legacy: Many Nations Review

Once-a-Week Studies {Homeschool Legacy}
We received a Once-a-Week Grab-and-Go Micro-Study called Many Nations from Homeschool Legacy to review. Homeschool Legacy publishes Christian unit studies that last four weeks. They can be used by students in 1st grade through 8th grade, depending on the unit study. We love Homeschool Legacy's unit studies because they are easy to follow and can be used by multiple students of different ages. I taught the Many Nations unit study to my Kindergartner and 1st grader.  
Once-a-Week Studies {Homeschool Legacy}
We received a digital copy of the unit study in PDF form that we were able to download and print. There are links in the unit study that have printable materials, which we also printed, although not all of the links worked. We were also unable to pick up a copy of Sign Down the Moon, which is the book the unit study suggests to read. Our local library had two copies, but they were both signed out, and our local bookstore didn't have a copy. So instead we used Native American books we already had at home. (I list them at the end of the post.)

The micro-study is 20 pages long (including cover page, message from the author, dedication page, etc.) and covers a handful of the numerous indigenous tribes of North America. We have studied Native American culture and tribes in the past and used this unit study to learn more about them this year.

The first week introduces the Iroquois tribe from the Northeast Woodlands. There is a map that you can use to color in the different regions as you work through the unit study. You can also use the map to label where the different tribes live. My kids have a map on the wall that they have used in the past to mark where tribes live, so we used that. We printed out and colored in a paper longhouse and Iroquois paper dolls (a boy and girl for each of them). The link to the Tomahawk activity didn't work, so instead we cut out Tomahawks using construction paper.

The second week of the unit study focused on the Southeast Nations: Cherokee, Chickasaw, Choctaw, Muskogee Creek, and Seminole. We focused mainly on Sequoyah, who was from the Cherokee tribe and invented the first written tribal language after becoming interested in "talking leaves" (the written word). We have two books on Sequoyah, so we read those and practiced writing the Cherokee alphabet.  He was able to teach the written language to the rest of the tribe and 7 years later they were able to print a newspaper called the Cherokee Phoenix. We took a one week break from our Spanish language studies to learn about the Cherokee language. We also created a timeline and labeled historic events. The unit study says to use clipart or download images to cut and paste on the timeline. We downloaded a blank timeline and printed pictures from Google and Wikipedia. This was the first time we really talked about history and compared past and present events. We discussed the Trail of Tears and the Long Walk, treaties the US Government made, what reservations are, and what injustices the indigenous tribes of America face today.

The third week covered the Plains Nations. We have family living in Montana on the Crow and Cheyenne reservations and I have pictures from my childhood of staying there over the summer. I showed the pictures to the kids and was able to teach them about how they built and set up tepees, the Buffalo Nation, and what a sun dance and rain dance are, among other lessons. The activities in the unit study has directions to create a tepee and diorama. There is also a link to a program that helps you learn Native American Sign Language called "Talking Hands" that the Plains Nations and other tribes used to communicate. We watched videos of buffalo grazing and being herded by riders. We also looked at tools, clothing, and utensils made from buffalo parts online. We talked about how hunting the buffalo was a dangerous job, but the Plains tribes relied on the buffalo for food and revered them.

The fourth week was about the Southwest Nations. We made Hogans out of paper mache and bowls out of clay. We practiced weaving bowls using paper and then switched to a DIY cardboard loom and used yarn. My daughter absolutely loved weaving and has requested a real loom for Christmas. The second craft the unit study covers is sand art, but we did not get a chance to make any, so we watched YouTube videos. It's definitely a project for a later date. For the Art Appreciation section I had examples my kids could look at in person. I have Navajo jewelry and textiles (three blankets) they were able to look at and we watched videos of how the Navajo make pottery and baskets. We also added to our timeline the Navajo Talkers who were incredibly important during WWII.

I definitely feel like this unit study should have included a lesson on the Pacific Northwest tribes, even if it added a week to the unit. We did this and created our own lessons and crafts. We focused on how they built plank houses, went whale hunting, carved totem poles, and their art. While learning about their unique art, they learned how dyes were made back in the day. While we didn't make our own dyes the same way, they did find ingredients in nature to make their own. We used different colored leaves (green, yellow, orange, and red) and mashed them using rocks until it formed a thick, lumpy paste. We added a little water and they used paintbrushes to paint a picture.

Throughout all the lessons we read books. Some were non-fiction and others were based on stories and legends. We also watched an episode from Magic School Bus called Shows and Tells (season 3, episode 6). The kids go back in time to research an artifact. We got to learn about what a hypothesis is and how it helps scientists and historians learn about history. We visited our local library which has a collection of Native American artifacts that were found nearby. Our area is actually where some of the original Massachusetts settlements were made. We also learned about present day tribal life.

Homeschool Legacy's unit studies can also be used to earn Boy Scout badges. This is not something we would use now, but my son plans to join the Boy Scouts next year.

We love using Homeschool Legacy for unit studies. They have just enough stuff to get us started and suggestions on how we can learn more about the subject. I really like that the unit studies accommodate children of different ages and as a teacher you can decide how simple or complex you want the lessons to be. Older students can probably complete the lessons in about 30 minutes. We usually spent an hour or two on each lesson. We typically spread out the lessons during the week, so we didn't do the whole weeks lesson in one day, although some students may prefer to do that. We look forward to using more unit studies by Homeschool Legacy in the future!

Other great Once-a-Week Studies and Micro-Studies:

Once-a-Week Studies {Homeschool Legacy}

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Once-a-Week Studies {Homeschool Legacy}

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List of books we read during the unit study, in no particular order:
Coyote Places the Stars by Harriet Peck Taylor
The First Strawberries: A Cherokee Story retold by Joseph Bruchac
Ma'ii and Cousin Horned Toad: A Traditional Navajo Story by Shonto Begay
A River Ran Wild by Lynne Cherry
Between Earth and Sky: Legends of Native American Sacred Places by Joseph Bruchac
Thirteen Moons on Turtle's Back: A Native American Year of Moons by Joseph Bruchac and Jonathan London
The Mud Pony by Caron Lee Cohen 
The Legend of Scarface: A Blackfeet Indian Tale by Robert San Souci
Crossing Bok Chitto: A Choctaw Tale of Friendship and Freedom by Tim Tingle
The Very First Americans by Cara Ashrose
Raven: A Trickster Tale from the Pacific Northwest by Gerald McDermott
Song of Sedna by Robert D. San Souci
Children of the Earth and Sky: Five Stories About Native American Children by Stephen Krensky
Children of the Wind and Water: Five Stories About Native American Children by Stephen Krensky
Turquoise Boy: A Navajo Legend by Terri Cohlene
Clamshell Boy: A Makah Legend by Terri Cohlene
Sequoyah's Talking Leaves by Mary Dodson Wade
Buffalo Woman by Paul Goble
The Girl Who Loved Wild Horses by Paul Goble
The Gift of the Sacred Dog by Paul Goble
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