Koans 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). Koans VII-IX can be found in The Tao of Board Gaming III (October 2012). Koans X-XII can be found in The Tao of Board Gaming IV (May 2014). Koans XIII-XV can be found in The Tao of Board Gaming V (December 2014).
XVI. The Buddhist Nature of Munchkin
There was once a gamer who seemed to have a perfectly Buddhist nature. When he played Monopoly he simply nodded as all of his money was stolen away by fat cats. When he played Risk he had a light heart when his armies were cleared from the map of the world, even unto Australia. When he played Munchkin he smiled when he lost cards, and even levels, as his opponents cried out, “Take That!”
However the Buddhist gamer’s nature seemed to crack when his gaming group began to change their play from American games to their European brethren. He was still able to accept the loss of a meeple in Carcassonne, of a route in Ticket to Ride, or of a hex corner in Catan. However, he then took no joy as he collected his points, completed his tickets, and built his civilizations. Worse, he became agitated and unhappy, losing the Buddhist nature that was his core.
One of his friends asked him why this was so, and after some careful contemplation, the Buddhist gamer replied.
He said, “The Buddha teaches us that we must empty our self of all things, and that only then will we find peace and contentment. American board games are perfect models for this lesson. You take up resources at the start of the game, and then your opponents spend their time worrying away at you until there is nothing left. And so you reach enlightenment.”
(“Only if you’re a looo-ser,” whispered Chad, who loved American games, and became angry every time that a European game was put on the table instead.)
“European games do not have this nature,” said the Buddhist gamer. “They encourage you to build yourself up, instead of tearing others down. Certainly, you can face setbacks in all of the games. However, with rare exceptions like Tigris & Euphrates, European games burden you with accomplishments that you can never free yourself from.”
The other gamers stared at the Buddhist gamer for a while, shocked.
One of them finally said, “So you’re saying the Buddhist nature of gaming … is to play Ameritrash!?”
The Buddhist gamer simply nodded.
XVII. A Thousand Victories
There was once a Dao gamer who was really bad at gaming. His people starved in Agricola, his spaceships crashed in Galaxy Trucker, his pods sat unused in King Chocolate, his robots kept coming home in Aquasphere, and his characters died in Pathfinder Adventure Card Game. Somehow he even managed to lose at cooperative games when everyone else won.
Despite his losses, the Dao gamer always showed great sportsmanship. He would compliment the winner and he would point out their best plays. Though he might analyze his own faults, he would always take responsibility for them, never claiming that they were due to random luck or otherwise suggesting this his loss or the victor’s victory was unjust.
Many of his opponents were very impressed with his attitude, and when they told him so, he would unabashedly repeat his favorite Buddhist aphorism: “It is better to conquer yourself than to win a thousand battles. Then the victory is yours.” Which probably wasn’t actually said by Buddha, but is a nice statement `of the Dao of Gaming anyway.
His opponents would usually nod at his wisdom, but that wasn’t the case with one particular winner, who had probably beat the Dao gamer in hundreds of games.
“Better than a victory in a thousand battles?” He said. “I don’t think so, but if I keep playing against you, I should be able to say for sure in a few more years.”
XVIII. The Long-Suffering Teacher
Once upon a time, there was a very annoying gamer.
He went too slowly, no matter what the game was. When considered the possibilities in Power Grid he could take long moments, and perhaps that was understandable. But he would do the same when he was selecting a card in Dixit.
If there was a way to be bad at a game, he was. But this didn’t just doom his own play. He managed to play so badly that he mangled everyone else’s plans, through decisions that made no sense at all and were usually to everyone’s detriment. If he played a strategic game, he’d doom himself, and often the one or two people sitting to his left. If he played a cooperative game, you might as well give up before you took your first move. Despite this, he had an unyielding urge to tell everyone else how to play. Even if the advice had been good, no one would have wanted it. But it was anything but.
Sometimes the annoying gamer would go to get a snack just before his turn, forcing everyone else to wait, and sometimes he’d leave entirely before the game was even done. If the question “Whose turn is it?” ever arose at the gaming table, because everyone was staring at each other and no one was doing anything, then inevitably it turned out to be the annoying gamer’s turn.
In short, if there was a bad or annoying habit that you might ever have the misfortune to encounter at the gaming table, then the annoying gamer had it. He even ate Cheetos and then touched other peoples’ games with his orange-stained fingers.
It should be no surprise that the other gamers of the gaming club one-by-one began to avoid the annoying gamer. It became almost a game to find some way not to play with him. Some went to get a snack themselves when he was looking for a game, and others prolonged the games they were playing if he was impatiently watching beside the table. Some gamers even decided to go home rather than join a quickly gelling game that included the annoying gamer.
But there was one gamer, a student of the Dao, who never avoided the annoying gamer and would always make sure he had a game to play in. Though the student obviously grew bored when the annoying gamer APed out, and though he obviously grew frustrated when his carefully laid plans were spoiled by a really dumb move, he did not avoid the annoying gamer as a result.
One day another member of the gaming group said, “You seem to go out of your way to play with the annoying gamer. How can you do so when he obviously annoys you too?”
The student said, “It is clear that everyone else would avoid him if they could. So, if I do not teach him a better way, then who will?”
The other gamer nodded and said, “That is very noble, but you had better get used to playing a lot of two-player games.”