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). Koans XVI-XVIII can be found in The Tao of Board Gaming VI (April 2016).
XIX. The Buddha Nature of Cooperative Games
One day a seeker came to speak with a lama about the Buddha nature of cooperative games.
The seeker said to the lama, “You know, I really don’t think I like these new co-op games that everyone is loving nowadays.” The lama asked why, and the seeker replied, “I’m not sure they’re really fun. We’re playing, but like in Pandemic we’re always afraid that the next card we draw is gonna kill us. It’s like we’re all totally scared instead of kicking back.”
“That is true,” said the lama. “Reiner Knizia, the Boddhistattva of reincarnated cooperative design, said that co-op players quickly realize they are doomed. It reminds us that suffering is a part of life.”
“OK,” said the seeker, “but it’s lots more than that. We do stuff in these co-ops and it’s just ripped away from us. Like in Flash Point we put out the flames, then they come roarin’ back like a mack truck.”
“That is true,” said the lama. “Matt Leacock, the Boddhistattva of Eurogame cooperative design, said that he actively tries to include upbeats and downbeats in his games. This reminds us that the suffering of life comes from us trying to cling to the impermanent things that we enjoy.”
“Whatever,” said the seeker. “So we come to the end of the game, and most of the time we lose. How fun is that!?”
“That is true,” said the lama. “Richard Launius, the Boddhistattva of American cooperative design, says that he tries to make the experience of the game more important than winning or losing. This reminds us that we conquer the suffering of life by accepting loss.”
The seeker said, “So you’re telling me that co-op games are great because they have a Buddha nature? Because they incorporate suffering, because the embody impermanence, and because they embrace loss?” When the lama nodded, the seeker said, “So what good are they? We could get all of that out of our crappy lives.”
The lama smiled and for a moment adapted the seeker’s vernacular and aphorisms. He said, “It’s like this, man: practice makes perfect.”
XX. Moments of Time
A gamer had fallen in with a group of euromonks, who enjoyed to play games created by German and French designers, and sometimes even American designers who pretended to be German. He had gamed with them for several years and enjoyed many rich games such as Terra Mystica, Caverna, Orléans, Viticulture, and Terraforming Mars.
But then the monks fell into the thrall of microgames, such as Love Letter, Coup, and Battlecruisers. The gamer enjoyed these new games at first, but after three weeks solid of microgame play, he began to yearn for furnished caverns, for wine presses, and for purposefully created greenhouse effects. So when Love Letter came out for the fourth week running, he wailed, “Can not we play one of our more complex favorites?”
One of the euromonks asked, “Do you find any singular turn of Love Letter less tense than in your favorites, such as Orléans?”
“No.” the gamer said. “I still agonize over who to select when I play my Baron.”
The euromonk continued, “Do you find any moment less exciting?”
“No.” the gamer said. “In fact my turns come much more quickly, because the game plays so quickly.”
“And,” the euromonk concluded, “Do you find any moment less joyful?”
“No.” the gamer said. “In fact I may have more joyful moments because I’m given the opportunity to win every five or ten minutes.”
The euromonk noted sagely and said, “If Love Letter delivers just as many minutes of tension and excitement and joy, then clearly it is just as good of a game.”
“I guess.” said the gamer, as he picked up the deck of sixteen cards, shuffled them, and dealt one to each player for the new round of play. “I guess I just get tired of all the setup.”
XXI. The Student of Dao’s Final Test
After ten long years of study, a student of Dao decided he was ready to graduate from the School of Dao Gaming. To do so, he was required to take a final test, which was to play a full campaign of Pandemic Legacy.
He was soon joined by three other would-be graduates of Dao Gaming, and they began to play.
The first crisis occurred when the student was forced to take a pen and write a name upon his character card. He dreamed momentarily of a pencil, or at least an erasable pen, but finally he marked down that name with indelible ink.
Afterward, the first game began, and some cities succumbed to plague while others enjoyed new growth. At the end of the game, this required the permanent affixation of new population numbers on the board. The student knew that he would be changing the game forever, and that it would never be as it once had been. But he remembered his lessons about the Buddha nature of life: that nothing is permanent, and that change is the only constant. So, he steeled himself once more, and did what was required.
As the second game began, the student felt like he was reaching enlightenment, seeing how the spirit of the game lay not in the box, but in the play.
But then, a new crisis loomed, when the student was instructed to destroy a card. He took it firmly in his hands as his fellow students looked on, but he found himself unable to tear it in two, unwilling to make that most irrevocable change.
So, he pointed across the room, and said, “Look, The Buddha!”
Then, when all the other students looked away, he slipped the card under the divider in the box. He felt that was surely sufficient, for the hidden card would never be used in the game again.
Thereafter, he returned to the School of Dao Gaming to begin his eleventh year of study.