Koans I-III can be found in The Tao of Board Gaming (December, 2009).
IV. The New Release that Went Up in Smoke
There came a time when the interwebs began to fill with stories of a new gaming release. It was to be created by That Game Designer who everyone looks up to and it would be a return to The Classics of his Golden Age. When it was previewed in the city of Essen, there were those who, without irony, called it “The Next Puerto Rico” and when it was released in the city of Nürnberg, there were some who prophesied that it would achieve the premier spot on a Certain Website within the month.
Seasons turned and the game was announced in A Country that lies across the ocean from Germany, and then a release date was set. Some considerable time after that it finally appeared. Time dims enthusiasm, but there had been so much emotion already packed into this small game box that it was still purchased quickly and in quantity by those who cared about such things.
There was a Certain Enthusiastic Gamer who was among those who cared. He had already read the rules on the interwebs, and so as soon as he made his purchase, he was able to pull open the box, punch its cardboard components and make it available for play. It was no surprise that others flocked at once to join him, for the enthusiastic gamer was not the only one of his ilk.
However, as that first game unfolded, the enthusiastic gamer found that his enthusiasm began to wane. He enjoyed collecting the resources, but these wooden pyramids were not too different from the cards of Catan, the cubes of Caylus, or the funny-shaped thingies of Puerto Rico. He enjoyed building up a production engine, but somehow felt that he had seen all the parts before, even if the machine that they produced was not quite the same. He had looked forward to the new mechanisms of shared resource allocation and pairwise production, but somehow they just did not live up to his expectations either.
The enthusiastic gamer became more and more gloomy as the game went on, until even his opponents could not ignore it.
“What is wrong?” one of them asked. “Have you not been waiting for this release for a year?”
“I have!” wailed the enthusiastic gamer. “But it’s just not what I thought it would be!”
“If only we could play the game that is in your mind,” said his opponent.
V. The Fivefold Path of Gaming
Five very unlike individuals found themselves playing together over the course of a long gaming day. They were all both kind and generous, for each made sure to play games that the others liked, even when those likes were not his own. But, at the end of the day, there were many complaints as well.
The first gamer was a strategic player and he said, “I really didn’t like that game of Settlers of Catan we played, for it was ruled entirely by the luck of the roll.”
The second gamer was a casual player and he said, “Well, that game of Age of Steam gave me a headache when I tried to figure out all that math, and then I was caught in a death spiral that left me hopeless throughout the last hour of play.”
The third gamer was an American player, and he said, “All those Euros were awful, but I think Tigris & Euphrates was the worst. We might as well have been playing Go for all the theming I got out of the red-blue-black-green color scheme of the game.”
The fourth gamer was a Euro player, and he said, “At least it was over quickly. I think we were all considering poking out our eyes as we waited for someone to make 10th level in Munchkin.”
The fifth gamer was a disciple of the Tao of Board Gaming, and he had no complaints, and this surprised the other players greatly. One said to him, “We played so many different games today. It cannot be that you liked them all.”
To which the Taoist replied, “Why would I want to play a game and not enjoy it?”
VI. The Buddhist Nature of Gaming
A student asked the Buddha, “What is the nature of gaming?”
The Buddha replied, “All games are impermanent. They come into being when the players breathe into them, and when the gaming ends, the life of the game is gone too. Yet this does not change their existence while the gamers sit at the table.
“All games are based on suffering. Except perhaps when playing the fabled two-player games, or when playing with children, we are more likely to lose than to win. Yet, we can enjoy a game still by emptying ourselves of expectations of victory, by leaving behind the fear of loss, and by enjoying the experience for what it is.
“All games are built on the wheel of karma. If we take unkind advantage of our opponents, than our opponents are more likely to take unkind advantage of us, perhaps in this game, or perhaps in another one that comes after.
“That is the nature of gaming: impermanence, suffering, and karmic response.”
“But,” said the student, “That sounds like the Buddhist nature of life. How do they differ?”
“Games have better components,” the Buddha replied. “Especially those with really cute meeples and those published by Fantasy Flight.”
All agreed that it was so.