Zen in Board Games
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Well, I guess this might be one of the most pretentious geeklists ever submitted, so I suppose I have to expect and accept plenty of ridicule. It's probably one of the vainest geeklists too, as I try to reason intellectually about things which only can be understood intuitively really; I doubt that even an earnest Zen Buddhist will appreciate it. It's also a pointless geeklist in a way, as I make a selection of games, although playing every game potentially can be or, depending on your view, actually is Zen. So, take this list for what it is. However, it's most sincere and something I've really wanted to write.




Disclaimer: There's a common misconception that Zen Buddhism is a religion, when it in fact is a philosophy, or an approach to life if you like; another way of putting it is that it's more of an attitude than a belief. In any case, there are numerous examples of both theists and atheists embracing Zen Buddhism, so this is by no means RSP material.
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1. Board Game: Galaxy Trucker [Average Rating:7.46 Overall Rank:130]
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"Life is like stepping onto a boat which is about to sail out to sea and sink." ―Shunryu Suzuki

Galaxy Trucker may seem like an odd choice for this list, but really, this game can teach us many things. The most interesting aspect is the space travel phase, though. You desperately try to puzzle together something which resembles a starship under a few, precious minutes, and then you have to watch it fall to pieces when it's hit by laser bolts and asteroids. It shows us that nothing lasts, but even though we know that our journey inevitably will end, we can enjoy it while it lasts. Or rather, we accept the journey as it is. Our starships will fall apart and that's perfectly fine.
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2. Board Game: Go [Average Rating:7.66 Overall Rank:124]
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"When you do something, you should burn yourself completely, like a good bonfire, leaving no trace of yourself." ―Shunryu Suzuki

This game is probably less of a surprise. Go is, in my opinion, the closest to zazen, i.e. meditation, you can get while playing board games. It encourages silence and contemplation and discourages loudness and haste. To find the best move, you must concentrate on the present and empty your mind. Obviously, I think playing Go is a very good way to practice mindfulness.

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3. Board Game: Pandemic [Average Rating:7.65 Overall Rank:73]
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"I am Not, but the Universe is my Self." ―Shítóu Xīqiān

Everything and everyone we'll ever meet in our lives, are made of the same stardust. Everything we ever do will affect everyone else in some way. Whether we like it or not, we are one ― and we are many. It's a classic example of the notoriously complex non-dualistic views in Zen teachings; it's neither, and it's both. I believe that playing co-operative games may help us to understand this concept. On the one hand, we play our unique roles and utilise their abilities, but on the other hand, we do so together to overcome the challenges the game presents us. I think Pandemic adds an interesting layer to this: If we don't do our individual and collective best to fight a disease on one continent, it may affect another continent, which in turn may affect a third continent, and so on ― and in the end, it may spell certain doom on mankind, which of course includes us as individuals.
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4. Board Game: Tigris & Euphrates [Average Rating:7.72 Overall Rank:69]
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"Be humble: In the beginner's mind there are many possibilities, but in the expert's mind there are few." ―Shunryu Suzuki

I think that board games really can teach us to be humble and preserve our creative beginner's mind, especially deep and demanding games of skill. If you, for instance, play a game like Tigris & Euphrates, you can't really follow a formula. Every game will be different and will require different strategies. Every time you play it, you'll have to approach it like a beginner, to keep your mind open to all possibilities and opportunities. Similarly, I think we should encourage ourselves to to play against stronger players, masters even, even though it means we will get badly beaten. If we want to get better at the game, we must accept and even embrace that we are beginners and learn from our own mistakes and the superior play of our opponents. That, if anything, teaches us how to be humble.
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5. Board Game: Escape: The Curse of the Temple [Average Rating:7.06 Overall Rank:423]
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"We do not know the future, and we do not worry about the past. We only live in this present moment to the fullest and in the best way we know how." ―Soyu Zengaku Matsuoka

Escape may be a trivial and silly game, but I actually think that this game has something to teach us. Few, if any, games force us to concentrate on the here and now as profoundly as this game. You can't let your mind wander and think of that which has passed or might come; you can only think of that which is. There's only here and now; the past and the future are merely illusions.
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6. Board Game: Jungle Speed [Average Rating:6.55 Overall Rank:1081]
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"A Zen master once said to me, 'Do the opposite of whatever I tell you.' So I didn't." ―Unknown

Or maybe you should ignore my drivel completely, and spend time with your gaming buddies, play games for hours, have a blast, think, laugh, and just be. That's Zen in my book.
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