Finding balance in a chaotic world

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December 2017
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No, it’s not a cough lozenge from Sweden. Instead it is the new “it” modern boardgame. Agricola game out last year in Germany and won the Spiel de Jahrs award for best game at the Essen game show, the largest show in the world. It recently came to America and it quickly sold out its first print run with a second one hotly anticipated next month. The concept of the game is that each player is a small farming family in central Europe in the late 1600s. The family takes actions to improve the farm and the family with the most diverse and balanced farm at the end of the game is the winner. Notice that I said balanced.


The key to the game is that each family member can take one action a round and you always have more than two actions you really need to perform. Also each action can only be taken once so if another player beats you to it, you’ll have to try again next round. By the end of the game, there will be 30 different actions you can perform and all are typically beneficial to you in some way. The big limiter in the game is that you will need to be able to feed your family at regular intervals of the game so you have to spend your precious actions to just keep your family alive. Of course while you are harvesting food, you are losing the ability to improve your farm. You can make more family members, but then you’ll need to feed them as well.


So while you are playing the game, you are constantly making decisions and these decisions are often not the optimal choice you want to make, but it is the best one for the time given the current circumstances. You cannot spend too much time focused on one area because if you do you’ll be neglecting a different one, lowering your final score. Now this may sound too stressful in a supposedly fun game, but truthfully it isn’t. The game is a lot of fun and you are never truly sure how you are doing until the very end.


The constant struggle to grow your farm and provide for your family should strike home with all of us, since that is what we are doing every day. Often we cannot make the actual choice that we wish to make because circumstances currently prevent it, so we make the best decision we can and move on. Occasionally we meet with a setback, but these too must be overcome. I find the game is a wonderful little microcosm of what we deal with every day.


I also feel that by playing the game, you help to build your decision-making skills and also better identify opportunities when they come around. While it is not an educational game per se, it does help reinforce skills that you will use every day in the real world.


Learning to deal with the limited supply of resources we have at our disposal, be it food, money, time, space, etc. is a critical part of becoming balanced. You rarely have more than enough of what you want or need so you must make decisions on what to do with what you do have. It is nice to be able to practice these skills in a safe environment, like a boardgame, where the penalty of failure is minor.


So I encourage you to find something fun that helps reinforce the life skills you use every day, be it a puzzle book, a boardgame, videogame, or a toy. Skills only become honed with practice.