Play the Game Well

How do you feel about board games?

[Some of] our family loves them, and when we found our holiday travel plans cancelled this year, we reverted [mostly] contentedly to our usual early January pastime of marathon sessions of whatever new games were under our Christmas tree.

Our favourite this year is Scythe, and our obsession with it is teaching me five things about living well amidst the tensions of adaptability:

  1. There are lots of ways to win, but you can’t win by pursuing all of them.
  2. You can win regardless of the cards you’re dealt, if you have a clear strategy.
  3. Your likelihood and speed of winning both go up if you adjust your strategy to match the cards you’re dealt.
  4. When you’re just getting the hang of something new, it’s hard to keep adding new rules until after you’ve mastered the initial ones.
  5. Reading how to play is less effective (and much less fun) than actually playing.
Scythe Board Game (Image Credit: StoneMaier Games)

I’ll leave it to you to decide if these five lessons apply to your context too, but for me the metaphor really works:

  • Trying to do too many things at once dilutes my focus, slows my overall progress and leads to frustration, especially when the people around me have managed to drown out the noise and get to work.
  • There are core disciplines that are true and helpful no matter which cards I’m dealt. It’s easy to forget them if I’m distracted by trying to adjust to my new hand.
  • If I can maintain that core while also aligning my strategy to capitalize on the new information and “superpowers” I’ve been dealt (and letting go of old strategies that don’t fit with these new resources), things go better.
  • The pace of change matters. I can absorb new ways of doing things, but not if they come at me in a way that’s “too much too fast.”
  • We can know what to do, but we only make an impact and reap the benefits if we actually do it. It’s in the doing that we can reflect, find gaps in our understanding, and course correct. Reading the instructions isn’t synonymous with learning how to play.

These last two points remind me of a quote attributed to Lao Tzu: “Fill your bowl to the brim and it will spill. Keep sharpening your knife and it will blunt.”

May your bowl have some space and your knife be useful today!

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