The Tao of Board Gaming III

The Tao of Board GamingKoans I-III can be found in The Tao of Board Gaming I (December, 2009). Koans IV-VI can be found in The Tao of Board Gaming II (April, 2010).

VII. The Tao Master Plays a Game

One day the Tao master joined his students in their game playing.

Though the students respected the master in all matters of Taoism, they thought themselves more proficient upon the playing field of games, and thus expected to better him here. And, if they were not entirely certain of their own gaming mastery, they were certain that their master’s kind and peaceful nature would keep him from truly seizing the advantage, as is required by a game winner.

So they played Dominion and were surprised when their master beset them with Curses and Ruins. They played Galaxy Trucker and were surprised when their master exactly equalled the blaster gun strength of pirates solely so that he could send them back at his students. They played Aeroplanes and were surprised when their master stomped their older airports to gain majorities in Europe, Africa, and the East alike. In all these games, their master was thoughtful but aggressive — and he won them all. Handily.

Several turns into a very ill-considered game of Elasund one of the students had an important structure crushed beneath his master’s own building, and he finally burst out, “How could you do these things!? Though you have not gloried it in, you have been warlike in these games, seizing upon our weaknesses and mercilessly exploiting them!”

The master smiled and said, “You think that I am betraying my nature?”

This was the point the student had been trying to make, so he exclaimed, “Yes! You teach us peace and understanding but now you show us the very opposite!”

The master continued to smile serenely and he said, “But If I did not do these things, would I not be betraying the nature of the games?”

VIII. The True Nature of the Award

There was once an American game designer who created a wonderful game. There was no doubt that the game was truly great. The problem was that the designer did not have the funds to properly market it. So he instead selected another stratagem to tell the world about his game. He decided that he would win an award.

Unfortunately, he felt that the German awards were closed to him, for he was not German, nor did he have a large publishing house. Without the ability to produce supplements, he did not think he could win the SdJ and without the ability to attend German conventions, he knew that he could not win the DSP. So instead the designer set his sights upon a certain American award.

Submitting his game to the judges was easy enough. As he knew would be the case his game won them over, and thus they nominated it for the prize. He was not foolish enough to think he would then win by a hopeful heart and a cheerful spirit. No, he continued to work toward his own success. He told his scant fans to vote for the game, and he even used his scarce and valuable dollars to make copies of the game available for play at the award’s gaming con.

When the award was announced, the designer learned that he had lost. Instead that American gaming award went to a game that was simultaneously derivative enough to be dull and innovative enough to be broken. It was actually somewhat of an accomplishment, though that was not the accomplishment that the award voters had been considering. In truth the game had won solely based upon its product name and the fact that the publisher lobbied its numerous fans to vote. The designer was angry, bitter, and aggrieved. If one of the good games up for the award had won, he might have understood, though he knew his was better. But that this horrid bit of nothingness won instead was … unbearable.

So the designer complained to one of his best friends, who happened to be a student of the Tao of Board Gaming.

The student softly replied, “When you play Dominion do you claim you should win if your deck is the largest?”

The designer said, “No! Of course not!”

Then the student asked, “When you play Galaxy Trucker do you expect victory if your ship is the most attractive?”

“Well, it might get me a couple of points at the end,” said the designer. “But no.”

“And,” said the student, “when you play Lords of Waterdeep do  you expect to earn bonus points for ‘roleplaying your alignment?'”

“I’m not even sure what you’re talking about,” said the designer, “but probably not.”

“So why is it,” asked the student, “that you think you can set your own victory conditions for this ‘award game’?”

The next year the designer produced a Cthulhu dungeon crawl game that played like crap but dripped with theme,  and he made sure that a certain well-loved publisher published it for him.

He won the award, but somehow it didn’t make him feel any better.

IX. Deckbuilding & The Art of War

There was once a master deckbuilder. When he played Dominion, he won with great regularity, but that was not what impressed his opponents. Instead, they were awed by the fact that he often purchased the most useless cards and then used them to stunning effect.

He would play Pearl Diver and somehow use it to construct devastating combos. He would play Wishing Well and he would always have ways to discover what his cards would be. He would play Black Market and manage to construct cohesive strategies from the cacophony. He would even play Thief in 2-player games and simultaneously manage to harm his opponent and make good use of the Coppers he gained.

One day, after being defeated yet again, one of his opponents asked the master deckbuilder about his philosophy.

Dominion is a game of war,” said the master deckbuilder. “You are building an army, and you must be sure that your army works together well.”

Some of the lookie-loos and hangers-on were impressed by this statement, but the opponent simply nodding, showing that he already knew this fact.

The master deckbuilder smiled and said, “Well then, surely you know that you must build your deck to depend upon the strengths of its best cards.”

The opponent agreed.

“However,” said the master deckbuilder, “You must also build your deck to depend upon the weaknesses of its worst cards. That is how you become a master deckbuilder.”

And so the opponent became enlightened.

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    • Permission granted for these and the early Tao articles (if you so desire) as long as you give me a link back in your posts to the original English posts here. Thanks for the interest!

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