Board Game Review: Terraforming Mars

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Maria here again! If you are new here, my name is Maria, and I am Brandon’s wife! You can read my first post here. Brandon is humoring me with a mini game blog series where I give you MY perspective on board games. Last week, I received Marrying Mr. Darcy. This week, it’s Terraforming Mars. (That’s right – I’ve got range!)

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I’m someone who grew up playing card and board games, but I would not consider myself a hobby gamer. I do have a cabinet of board games, but I didn’t really start accumulating games until after hitching my wagon to Brandon.

One of the very first board games that we received as a couple was Terraforming Mars, which we received from Brandon’s brother during our first Christmas together!

Just call me The Wall-E of Mars

Terraforming Mars has been out for a few years now, and it still stands as one of my favorite games. While the first game was beyond brutal, I have found the ever-evolving landscape to be loads of fun. (The rulebook seriously needs another 10 pages to it for potential scenarios, just saying).

Brandon is one of those gamers that thinks multiple moves ahead and it can be increasingly frustrating to play against him in a game of chess…BUT Terraforming Mars manages to work around that pesky habit of his quite nicely!

Side note: I feel like if we ever played chess, we could tell who’d win after the first two rounds.

Ok, enough chit chat. Let’s roll out and explore Mars!

Terraforming Mars: Board & Deck Building Game

Objective

Terraform Mars, duh. ALSO earn the most points by the end of the game. Per the instructions, “The game ends when there is enough oxygen to breathe (14 %), oceans enough to allow Earth-like weather (9), and the temperature is well above freezing (+8 ˚C). It will then be possible, if not comfortable, to live on the surface of Mars!”

Game Play Overview

One important thing to understand about the game is that we call rounds “generations.” Each Generation consists of four stages.

Setup

First, you select a character (corporation) from a selection where each has its own pros/cons. Each player gets specific startup resources based on their corporation.

Next, you set up the board according to the directions. The temperature and oxygen start as low as they can go. Each player starts with a set number of project cards. Then place character cubes on the starting Terraforming Rating space along the edge (#20).

The game then moves through 4 phases (the first generation doesn’t technically have the first two phases because those are conducted during setup).

Phase 1: Player Order

The Player 1 token circulates clockwise between generations. This is how the game makes sure everyone has a fair shot. For a 2-player game, this part can be difficult to remember to do, but it is important specifically for blue action cards that can only be used once per generation.

Phase 2: Research Phase

Everyone takes turns deciding if they want to “Research.” Research means you have the choice of buying cards. The cards are projects, which act as event cards you can play to get points and try to terraform Mars.

These are the Projects cards that you can purchase during the Research Phase, and choose to play during the Action Phase. Photo c/o Just Push Start
Phase 3: Action Phase – The Longest Phase

After everyone has conducted their “Research Phase” then the gameplay moves to the “Action Phase”. During your turn, you have a specific list of actions to choose from to complete during that turn. You then complete 1 or 2 actions each turn. You could even keep taking 1 or 2 actions until you run out of resources if you wanted to.

Once I realized that we could keep going as long as we wanted (essentially), I found a whole new element to the game that I enjoyed. Maybe this is standard for engine-building games, but it was a new concept to me. (It’s also probably is one of the reasons why I kept accidentally cheating.)

So as for your action options, you can choose to:

  • Play a card from your hand
  • Use a standard project (you pay money to do a project printed on the board)
  • Claim a milestone (a side hustle to get extra points; you basically want to race to complete these first; printed on the bottom left of the game board)
  • Fund an award (I’m still confused on these, but the idea is you are betting on yourself to be the best in whatever the award is; printed on the bottom right of the game board)
  • Use the action on a blue card that you’ve already played (once per generation only)
  • Convert 8 Plants into a Greenery Tile (which increases the oxygen 1% and therefore your Terraform Rating)
  • Convert 8 Heat into a Temperature increase
Phase 4: Production Phase

Once everyone completes all the actions they want to (or, if you’re like me, you run out of money), then the “Action Phase” ends. At that point, the “Production Phase” begins. It is during Production that you get money!! And other resources too, blah blah blah.

Besides getting money, I like this phase because it really sticks to the concept that you are a company. Since I’m a tactile person, I particularly like getting to slide the “Energy” cubes over to the “Heat” section because energy converts to heat. Isn’t that neat?

After everyone has their money (and other resources) then the Player 1 token rotates, and you move to the next generation. I think the Generations are just a way to help keep track of who gets to go first and helps break up the phases/turns.

When just the two of us play, we only halfway remember to adjust the generation. We still try to keep up with the generations, though, because they are also important if you are using an action on one of the blue cards, since those can only be done once per generation.

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What I love about Terraforming Mars

There is a lot to like about this game, so I’ll list them out:

There are just enough tactile elements to keep me interested. I love the different colored cubes and the dual-sided land pieces

Personally, I like the art on the cards. My husband is a bit more into game mechanics and the nitty gritty (can’t you tell I’m pleased I married a game developer? Ha!) and he thinks there are too many irregularities in the stock images and fonts. Honestly, I don’t care; the colors are bright so I’m happy.

I can be the Comeback-Kid! There are times where my husband has been absolutely clobbering me the entire game…until we go to tally up the points at the end of the game. Like Marrying Mr. Darcy, there are multiple ways to earn points. That means that even if you are majorly behind, you can still come back and win. Brandon still beats me a fair amount, but boy do I make him work for it!

True replayability. I feel like there are so many games out there that boast replayability, but don’t deliver. I’ll talk about the Forbidden games in a future post, but I feel like Forbidden Island is a good example of a game that technically can be played over and over again because the board always changes. But besides the changing board, there is not much else that changes.

With Terraforming Mars, however, you have a plethora of company options (each with their own bonuses and challenges) and even a whole second set of rules for added complexity. Brandon and I have been playing this game for years now and we still haven’t hit the tier 2 complexity cards.

Perfect 2-player game. Yup, I said it. I think that this is a perfect 2-player game. It will be interesting to see how it plays with more players, but it is complex enough for 2 people but also not one that requires thinking 12 steps in the future. Sure, you do still need to do some thinking ahead, but I draw the line at taking 20 minutes to plan out your next play. We aren’t all Doctor Strange, ok?

I’m yellow and won. Hence, the photo.

Could Use Improvement

The rule book desperately needs to be expanded. I realize that it can be challenging to write rule books and include every potential scenario, but there are some basic scenarios in the game that are not referenced anywhere in the rule book. Like the animals, ants, microbes, all that stuff. The cards do describe what to do, but there is no single page or section that outlines all the cards that interact with one another.

The first few times we played, I did not understand the relationship between a few of the cards because I only saw Card A and never saw Card B to understand the relationship. Make sense? Goodness, even trying to explain what needs to be improved is difficult…

Additionally, we need more resource cubes. Perhaps discs or some other marker to indicate a higher denomination (when you are producing in the double digits, the only current way to mark that is by stacking cubes)

We need more money cubes, too, but also more of the smaller denominations. If I could really get my way, then I would want the metallic look to not wear off.

Lastly, the game needs a box insert. I realize that there are separate inserts you can buy to put in the box, and we probably will go down that route one of these days. Even still, I wish that there was one developed by the board gamers that would then be able to remain on-theme. Then again, it is nice to help support some small business by buying the inserts from their etsy shops!


Preferred Game Mechanics: Very colorful, Incorporates a clicking noise, Tactile, but not needlessly fidgety (although a bit more fidgety than what I would like)

Board Game Geek Rating: 8.4 out of 10

We terraformed Mars…on to the next game

There you go! I hope you enjoyed my take on Terraforming Mars. If you are a patient person and willing to try something a little heavier than your normal game, then I highly recommend this game. There is a reason why it is so popular.

I’m going to go watch Wall-E now and do some Etsy shopping. I had *no idea* there were so many cute accessories to buy on Etsy for this game.

Next week I think I’m going to talk about a series of games that would be perfect for celebrating Halloween at home! At least, I know it’s what we are going to be doing 😀


Board Games, Seen By a Non-Gamer is written by Maria Polcari, Brandon’s wife. The series is meant to both make you think about games in a different way, and to give Brandon a much needed break!

This is the third in a five-part series (maybe more)!





Board Game Review: Marrying Mr. Darcy

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Maria here! Last week, I shared with you games I played during my formative years, and how those games made an impact on my taste in boardgames as an adult.

When I wrote the post, I was actually making dinner (multi-tasking FTW) and enjoying reminiscing about the days of old. I wasn’t expecting to discover the impact those childhood games made on my preferences as an adult.

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As for today’s post, I’ll be honest. It was supposed to mimic last week’s in that I was going to review my top 5 favorite games as an adult. Thing is, I’m not known for being brief (some might even go so far as to say I’m a bit talkative). My word count on this post was at 4,593 and counting.

So…game plan change! I’m splitting today’s post into a mini-series within a mini-series! Does that mean I’m being “meta”?

My five favorite games are primarily ones I’ve begun playing over the last 3-4 years, but ones I have a feeling will take a while to be de-throned. Over the next few weeks, I’m going to give you a little history into how I came across each game and a brief overview of how to play. I’ll then talk about what I like, and what could use improvement.

In keeping with our theme of nostalgia, I will also talk about which of my four favorite nostalgic game mechanics it incorporates. These four nostalgic game mechanics are:

  1. Dynamic character roles
  2. Great art or colors
  3. Incorporates a clicking noise
  4. Tactile, but not needlessly fidgety 

If you haven’t done it before, stop and think about what in board games makes you nostalgic. After all, nostalgia is a big part of why some games become very popular!

Marrying Mr. Darcy: Deck Building Game

Marrying Mr. Darcy is hands-down my favorite game. I will admit that my love for the game is a bit biased; I love Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice, and yes, I do indeed have a bookshelf dedicated to all of Jane Austen’s works. Brandon calls it my Mr. Darcy Shrine as there *might* be a hand-drawn pen portrait of Darcy, a variety of P&P editions (all different covers!), and Darcy quotes from varying media.

I have no idea why he thinks I’m obsessed. ANYWAYS it was only natural that my friends got me a Jane Austen themed Christmas gift one year that included the BOARD GAME!!!

You do not have to know a lot (or anything) about the book, but if you know even a little bit then you will get that much more out of the game. It is actually a family favorite and often my 60-year-old DAD demands I bring the game over to family functions! Anywhere from 2-6 people can play, and the more animated you are during gameplay the fonder the memories are created.

My favorite memory is Christmas a few years ago when I stayed up late with my Dad (then 57), brother (29), and Grandma (82) playing a rousing game of Darcy. I can still picture it, Dad clutching his Jane Bennet character card to his chest and saying how he can’t wait to marry “Bingers” (his pet name for Mr. Bingley). And then my brother threatening to go after Bingley because Bingley is “so dreamy”. My grandma was practically in tears she was laughing so hard.

This game is also one of the ways that I knew my now husband was the man for me! It was our 3rd date when I brought the game with me to a coffee shop. He not only played the game, but he played along with my self-imposed rule of speaking in an obnoxious British accent whenever reading the cards. I don’t know about you, but if a guy I’m dating is willing to make himself look like an idiot early on just to make me happy…then he’s a winner.

That’s me from our date! Showing off a particularly impressive hand.

Let’s Play

Objective

Person with the highest point count wins. Point counts are gathered from points played on your character and/or how advantageously you marry. 

Game Play Overview

Each person chooses a female character to play. I always go for Elizabeth Bennet, because she’s my girl. You can also select from some of the other Bennet sisters, Caroline Bingley, Charlotte Lucas, or Georgiana Darcy. Each player has their own special skill, and each character also has a listing of preferred bachelor pairings.

The deck-building aspect to the game is collecting cards of different virtues – beauty, wit, friendliness, reputation – and having the minimum amount needed to pique the interest of your preferred bachelor. For instance, Mr. Darcy is all about improving your mind through extensive reading…so he’s going to want his future wife to be all about that Wit. Mr. Bingley, on the other hand, is just a nice handsome joe, so he is more interested in Beauty or Friendliness.

You gain points by playing cards in your hand onto your character, and also through how advantageous your marriage is during the Proposal Stage of the game. The Proposal Stage is after all of the event cards have been played, and if you meet the minimum requirements to pique a bachelor’s interest then you have the very technical task of rolling a die to see if he will propose. That’s actually how I got Brandon to propose to me. Jk Jk.

Oh, and because love and war are sometimes synonymous, there are “cunning cards” that you can use to either take points away from your competitors, or play on your own character for a leg-up during the Proposals (Phase 2).

What I Love

The game developers seem to have built the game around the book instead of incorporating the book into a game. At least that is how it plays for someone who knows Pride & Prejudice. Every nuanced attention to detail is a small celebration for the Austenite in me!

For example, Mr. Darcy is Elizabeth’s first marriage choice, for obvious reasons. Yet her second choice is his cousin, Colonial Fitzwilliam. And you know what? He would be a great second choice for Elizabeth. She got along with him and he is still a high-ranking individual within society.

The other bachelor’s minimum requirements needed to potentially propose also line up with the book’s characterization. I find it hysterical that Wickham’s only requirements is that the woman has money – because he is a gambling git.

I also love that the player count can go as low as 2 with the game still being fun. As I mentioned previously, I played this game with my husband back when we were dating early on. Sure, it is more fun with a larger group (especially if everyone really gets into) but it is still enjoyable with a more intimate grouping.

Could Use Improvement

This game is certainly replayable, but it does run stale if you play it as many times as I do. There just are not enough event cards! Being an Austenite, with bookish friends, I did handwrite some event cards to add variety (and game length) to the stack.

I didn’t want to throw off the balance of “good” vs. “bad” cards as the developers did a great job finding that sweet spot, so I put in 10 and 10, and I think 3 Party Cards. On a funny note, despite putting in an even number of the good vs. bad cards, my dad always manages to draw one of the bad cards. Poor Bingers. 

If you do not want to write up your own expansion cards, the developers have released an Undead expansion pack for Marrying Mr. Darcy, as well as an Emma edition.

Preferred Game Nostalgic Mechanics: Dynamic character roles, Great Art, and even some Tactile elements (the die roll is a nice way to break things up).

Board Game Geek Rating: 6.4 with a 1.38 weight

Final Thoughts

There you have it! I highly recommend Marrying Mr. Darcy to anyone who loves Jane Austen’s works and board games. I would even recommend it to those who want to play a game that has some substance, but isn’t super heavy. The box is the perfect size to toss in a purse “just in case”.

Next week we are going to talk about another favorite go-to game that is significantly heavier than MMD. We are transporting ourselves from 19th century England to 22nd century Mars!


Board Games, Seen By a Non-Gamer is written by Maria Polcari, Brandon’s wife. The series is meant to both make you think about games in a different way, and to give Brandon a much needed break!

This is the second in a five-part series (maybe more)!





Growing Up with Board Games: The Power of Nostalgia

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Hey there, everyone! My name is Maria. I feel like the Goldilocks of boardgames. I don’t want to play a game that is too intense (no offense, Dominion), I don’t want a game that is too easy (I’ll only play Go Fish with my 3-year-old niece). Instead, I find myself somewhere in the middle when it comes time to picking out a game. Part of this is because of my early years growing up with board games.

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Brandon asked me to write a few guest posts for you all to give the perspective on games from someone who plays, but isn’t what most would consider a “hobby board gamer.” He says that’s because the board game market is a lot bigger than people think.

In this post, I’m going to share a little bit about me and the games I grew up on. I’ll also be writing future posts like: 

  • My Top 5 Games
  • My “I’d rather clean the bathrooms” Games 
  • Board Games for Dating
  • Marrying a Game Developer 

Growing Up with Board Games

I was born in the late 80s to parents who love games, specifically card games. Being the fourth member of the family, my parents saw an opportunity in our little quad of a family to play games regardless of our age. Some of my early memories of aluminum foil (don’t you think about your early memories of kitchen accessories?), was sticking my Uno cards in the box because there was no way I could hold all the cards at once.

By the time I was 6, I could tell you what Knobs meant, the importance of an Ace of Spades, and why you should never agree to “playing blood”. I much preferred a rousing game of Rummikub over Sorry! but, desperately clutched at Snakes and Ladders over trying to learn Backgammon yet again. 

My childhood is full of fond memories, many of which involve some form of game. I also recognize, however, that my childhood was not a normal one. When I was almost 4 years old, my family moved from the US to Saudi Arabia; I mention this, because travel board games were my mom’s go-to in keeping me quiet during the 24-26 hours of travel.

In addition to my own backpack of stuffed animals, Mom would always pack the giant purple “Game Bag” that held all kinds of amazing activities and SNACKS. Airplane food was definitely lacking, and our layovers were often at times where airport restaurants weren’t open, so this bag was the saving grace.

It had name brand crackers (Ritz), trail mix (M&Ms with obstacles), fruit roll-ups (pretty sure these were considered in case of emergency), and the aforementioned travel games. My favorite game was Guess Who because I liked looking at all the little pictures of people and imagined what they would talk about when we put the game in the box. My brother’s favorite was Battleship, and despite always having to play him so I could have someone on my end of the guessing game, I’m still terrible.

Board Games Were a Huge Part of My Childhood in Saudi Arabia

Since I grew up in Saudi, where there were no malls or movie theatres, and we didn’t get British TV until after a few years of living there, games were a stable in my childhood. Another aspect of living overseas meant that all the expats were their own little community.

Kids called adults by their first names. Adults expected kids to join in on the day’s activities. It seemed only natural that if my parents wanted to play a rousing game of Spades, then they had to teach me and my brother in order to complete the table. To their credit, we did play a lot of Uno too.

I could talk about dozens of games, but I’m going to focus on five. I’ll include a longer list of games at the bottom of this post if you fancy a trip down memory lane. 

  1. Monopoly
  2. Clue
  3. Mastermind and Mastermind Jungle
  4. The Game of Life
  5. Titanic

Growing Up with Monopoly

Let’s go ahead and talk about Monopoly to get it out of the way. I hate Monopoly. I used to love it when I was a kid because I thought the little pieces were so cute. The little Scottie was always my piece. It helped that Mom would let me pick whatever trades I wanted if I couldn’t fork over the money.

But Dad? Yeah, Dad was the real hardass in the game. If you landed on his hotel then you had better pay up, mortgage your properties, or walk out. Once I got a little older and my cute “but daaaaaad” didn’t work, we stopped playing the game. The below meme (courtesy of Facebook) is painfully true for my family.  

Growing Up with Clue

Clue. LOVED that game. I loved any kind of mystery, and this game let me play a sassy character: Scarlett. Looking back on it now, I can see how the game would get old after a while, but I do still enjoy games that target the same audience (I’m looking at you 221B Baker Street). I realize that I could just try and solve the crime without moving the puzzle piece around, but there is something so satisfying about hearing the dice roll and getting to click-clack your piece around the board. Almost like getting to play with a paper dollhouse…but a dollhouse with a murderous past. 

Growing Up with Mastermind

I actually forgot about this game until I sat down to write this post. Have you ever heard of it?

I remember when my brother and I found the game in the basement that had no directions and we tried figuring it out (apparently we found the 1972 original version).

Definitely getting those 1972 vibes.

Essentially, it is a 20 questions game that can be played without speaking and rather than answering “Who Am I?” you are trying to figure out the hidden 4-sequence pegs. This probably led to my lifelong interest in mysteries and heists.

While the first edition we played was certainly not physically accessible, we ultimately got a “jungle edition” that had the different colored pegs also be differently shaped animals. The hippos were purple, so it was pretty easy to guess my sequences.

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Growing Up with the Game of Life

So inaccurate, and yet accurate, all at the same time. It would explain a lot if 2020 were being caused by the spinner in Life flying off its inset.

I loved this game because it was always the game that we would play at my grandma’s house when we were visiting. Looking back now, I don’t know why my parents never bought us a copy of our own. Perhaps it wouldn’t have made the game feel so special.

We would play that game over and over again. In the early wee hours of the morning before anyone woke up, in the evening while grandma was cooking dinner, or during a lazy afternoon sprawled out on the floor.

That’s the other thing about that game, I rarely remember ever playing it on a table. We always played it on the floor either in the middle of the living room or between the living room and dining room. Pink and blue pegs everywhere, the raattttattatatattatatatat of the spinner always clicking away, and me continuing to ask the question “but why is the teacher salary so much less???”

Ah, to be so naive!

Don’t they look so happy?

Growing Up with Titanic

I’ve saved this game for last, because it is my absolute favorite. Perhaps it is one of my favorites because I am as stubborn as I am Italian (…I’m really Italian in case the implication wasn’t clear). My parents STILL groan if I ever mention the game. Even my husband refuses to play the game with me!

I don’t recall who gave us the game, but I was obsessed with it. First off, the board for the game folded outwards horizontally, not into a big square like every other game I was familiar with at the time. Then, it was split up into 3 different sections where you could not advance to the next section until having met certain objectives for your current section. That was mind boggling to me and a completely new concept.

And then, best of all, there was a PURPLE Lady in an AMAZING HAT as a character. I was sold. If I were to look at the game now, as an objective 30-year-old without a lifelong adoration of the game, I would possibly admit that it isn’t very complex and is really just a game of chance. Even Monopoly has more strategy than Titanic.

But goodness I was in love.

The art on the board was also so intricate for a game at the time. You had to pick up cute little passports that had fun details on them. You had to move around the board that was based on a real-life boat, and the cards referenced such swanky parties on the upper decks.

To a little girl who hadn’t even hit the double-digits club, this game had it all (except, of course, strategy). Even though the only person who will ever play this game with me is my cousin, it will always remain as a personal favorite and is why I dragged it out of the Goodwill box and have it safely tucked under my desk to this day. 

*Bonus Game: Rummikub*

I couldn’t stop at just 5 games. Rummikub is a game I have been playing since I was…5? 6? The only thing about this game that is a lie is the “Fast Moving” part of the catch phrase. That, and the happy smiling faced on the box.

We play by “Aunt Sue Rules” which is apparently different from the rulebook rules. I don’t care what you say, but if you’re going to replace a wild card, you must play it with 2 from your own hand. And don’t even think about moving the played wild card when switching tiles around; that’ll get a flipped table for sure.

When the pegs fell out of the stand and all your tiles fell….ah memories.

The Common Thread

Looking back on all the games that I played growing up, I see now why so many made such an impact on my game preferences now. They pretty much all incorporate the below factors: 

  • Great art or colors
  • Included a clicking noise, but wasn’t the entire game (I HATED Yahtzee because it hurt my ears) 
  • Tactile, but not needlessly fidgety 
  • Dynamic character roles

Even now when I pick out a game, if it has great art or just enough physical pieces, then I’ll give it a go at least once. I’ll talk more about what draws me to a board game in my next post, “My Top 5 Games” but the factors are not going to be too far from the above. Looking at my list of games to discuss in the next post (My Top 5 Games), I can definitely see that the common thread goes far beyond my childhood years.

That’s All, Folks!

I hope you have enjoyed my trip down memory lane as I shared with you the games that made my childhood. This is really nostalgic for me, even having left a bunch of games out.

I’ll leave you with this. All the games below are ones I played in the first ten years of my life. Let me know if any are nostalgic for you too!

  • Monopoly (Washington DC version)
  • Clue (Original, and Simpson’s)
  • Mastermind (Original and Jungle)
  • The Game of Life
  • Titanic
  • Rummikub (Aunt Sue rules)
  • Cribbage (don’t ever play blood)
  • Spades (girls against guys, duh)
  • Uno (did you know that you aren’t supposed to keep drawing until you get the right colored card???)
  • Battleship
  • Guess Who
  • Candyland & Snakes/Ladders
  • Gin (I literally always thought this was based on the alcohol)
  • Jenga (Only play on carpet)
  • Twister (Fun factoid, our game was in Arabic)
  • Sorry!
  • Connect 4 (play Gomoku if you were a fan of C4 as a kid!)
  • Mancala (Wasn’t huge on this game, but I liked the beads)
  • Chinese Checkers (Same as Mancala)
  • Trouble

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Board Games, Seen By a Non-Gamer is written by Maria Polcari, Brandon’s wife. The series is meant to both make you think about games in a different way, and to give Brandon a much needed break!

This is the first in a five-part series (maybe more)!