Civilization V is coming…

Civilization (video game)
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Yes, you read that right… Civ junkies around the world are jonesing for their next fix… September 21st has been declared “Civilization 5” day in Maryland. Evidently I’m in the wrong state for the true Civ junkies.

The new version looks to have had a serious facelift as well as some new mods to make things interesting… I’m sure it will suck time away just as well as the previous four versions and all their spinoffs have for me. I rather spend my time playing online slot machine games from sites like Talk Celtic than this game to be honest. The thought of having hexes instead of squares, the ability to have city-states, and a new system for dealing with politics and diplomacy… [drool]

I started playing when the first version was published in 1991… It was the end of college. And as I recall it caused more than a few (hundred) hours to disappear late into the night. Since then, I’ve played each major version and several of the side projects like Alpha Centauri and Colonization. Yes, I’m an addict. No, I’m not ready to seek professional help.

On September 21, I will get my next dose of Civ Fever and wear my lack of sleep proudly on my eyelids for a few months. We’ll see if my family disowns me during that period. 🙂

Any other Civilization freaks out there? If so, leave me a comment…

–Fitz (aka Fitzurabi, Fitzazulu, Fitzinator… You have to have cool names when you’re ruling an entire civilization for a few thousand years!!)

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PC Game Review: Itzabitza

Hi there!

I love being a parent. It gives me excuses to check out cool educational software for my daughters. Itzabitza offers a combination of art, reading, creativity, and exploration as well as a reason for kids to get used to using a mouse! In addition, it’s fun for parents to play along with their kids – unlike far too many games I’ve played with them recently.

The general theme behind Itzabitza seems to be selecting a setting and drawing things with the mouse to interact with the setting on screen to collect stars. As you collect more stars, you unlock new settings and can do new things. The five settings or playsets are “Home Sweet Home,” “Let’s Go Camping,” “Play in Space,” “A Farm Life,” and “A VERY Scary Haunted House” (just in time for Halloween).

If you’re familiar with Scribblenauts for the Nintendo DS, you sort of have the idea. But this is aimed squarely at younger kids, probably in the 4-6 year old range (though my 8 year old liked it too). Instead of having to write words to create things on the screen, you’re given a set of words that you click to get little tasks – like draw a house, a window, a rock, and so on. So you draw a house. And even if the house isn’t great, it figures out that’s what you drew and it animates it.

Honestly for me it was the little animations that made the game work. I’m definitely not an artist by any stretch of the imagination, but my two daughters worked together to figure out each cool little thing to do at their own pace. Add to that the fact that no two sessions will ever be exactly the same and you have a definite winner.

One day after playing the game, my eldest daughter told the story of how she and her little sister (age 4) had to try and get milk from a cow. They kept clicking on it and all it did was poop, but they eventually got the milk and giggled like mad for the better part of 10 minutes. It’s little unexpected things like that which will endear this game to most kids immediately. I think the folks at Sabi Games have an amazing understanding of what makes kids tick and how to keep them entertained while simultaneously teaching them about cause and effect, reading, and how to use their creativity. It’s a great combination.

In case you think I’m gushing about this game, I’m not the only one. ItzaBitza was just named to Dr. Toy’s Best 100 Children’s Products of 2009 list. It has also received glowing reviews from parenting and technology experts and recently won a Creative Child Game of the Year Award. The game had previously won a Parents’ Choice Gold Medal Award; an Editor’s Choice and Gold Award from The Children’s Technology Review; a five-star review from USA Today; The Toy Man Seal of Approval, eco-Recognition Seal, Award of Excellence and eChoice Award; an Editor’s Choice Game Award from the Computer Times; and a “Best Tech for Kids” mention in BusinessWeek.

Honestly, the only issue I had with the game while playing with my 4 year old was after you click on a word, you get a question. And you have to mouse over the words one at a time to have the computer read them. At a certain age, I think the word-by-word option should be there, but for younger kids to not get frustrated quickly it would be nice if it read the whole question instead of a word at a time. Perhaps that can be an option on the lower, easier levels, and the more backgrounds you unlock you have to read more.

If you’re a parent looking for a creative way to engage your youngsters ages 4 and up, Itzabitza is a great way to spend some time with them and let them explore their creative side while learning. It’s only available on Windows machines (XP and up), but you can find the boxed version at Amazon.com or purchase it on Steam (http://store.steampowered.com). Be sure to get your copy today!

–Fitz

p.s. Pick up these games today!

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Book Review: The Atlantis Revelation by Thomas Greanias

Unfamiliar with Thomas Greanias‘ work, I decided to dive into his latest book – The Atlantis Revelation. The combination of Atlantis and Nazi schemes was enough to tickle my fancy, exploring the fantastic world of archaeologist Conrad Yeats. The book turned out to be a bit like National Treasure with a bit of The Da Vinci Code and James Bond thrown in for good measure.

The book opens with Yeats diving in the wreckage of the legendary Nazi submarine, Nausicaa, deep in the Mediterranean ocean. Nausicaa was once captained by SS General Ludwig von Berg, also known as the Baron of the Black Order, the leader of Hitler’s Ahnenerbe – a group dedicated to proving that the Aryans were the descendants of Atlantis. The Baron had found some kind of Atlantean artifact and it had gone down when the submarine was sunk by the British Royal Navy in 1943.

Yeats soon discovered that it was the Flammenschwert or “Sword of Fire” – some kind of torpedo or bomb based on Atlantean technology? He had little time to find out however, as he was attacked in what I can only describe as a Thunderball-like (thank you Ian Fleming) underwater scuba battle by men also after the Baron’s treasure. As his attackers left him stuck in the Nausicaa, he had to wonder what he’d gotten himself into this time.

This was only the beginning of an adventure that spans the globe as Yeats puts the pieces together pitting him against Sir Roman Midas, Russian orphan turned British mining tycoon and mastermind behind what could become a global oil crisis. Along the way, Yeats works again with Sister Serena Serghetti from the Vatican, whom he had a previous relationship with. And it ends in a chase under the Temple Mount to stop a group intent on starting a world war.

Yeats seems to have a knack for surviving impossible situations and coming out on top or knowing who to contact when he gets into a bind, which got a bit tiring after a while. The jet-setting lifestyle and multiple talents of our erstwhile archaeologist made James Bond seem like an amateur while channeling a bit of Indiana Jones. But other than that it was fun to see how all the threads wove together.

The Atlantis Revelation was a very quick read and kept me entertained all the way through to the end. I’m always intrigued when writers work Nazis into the equation, as with The Boys from Brazil from Ira Levin and the Indiana Jones franchise. And add in the Atlantis side of things and I have to say it’s a great combination.

If you like quick, fun thrillers, The Atlantis Revelation by Thomas Greanias should be on your reading list. Check it out at your favorite library or bookstore!

–Fitz

p.s. Look for these books at Amazon!

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